25th Sep, 2017

Disgraced charity treasurer escapes jail after stealing more than £23,000

THE DISGRACED former treasurer of Kineton Music Festival went on ‘mad spending sprees’ after fraudulently obtaining a debit card for the charity’s bank account.

And as a result of Samantha Strong’s selfish dishonesty, a community project it was planning to finance, a disabled toilet, had to be cancelled.

She admitted stealing £23,142 by fraud in abuse of a position of trust – but has escaped being jailed after a judge said he was ‘just persuaded’ to suspend the sentence.,

The 32 year-old, of Horseshoe Crescent, Wellesbourne, was sentenced to two years in prison suspended for two years and made subject to a 7pm to 7am electronically-tagged curfew for four months.

Warwick Crown Court heard she has repaid £13,000 of the money she took – and there will be a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act following an investigation into her finances.

Prosecutor Sarah Morris said: “Mrs Strong was treasurer of the Kineton Music Festival, and between November 2015 and August 2016 she abused that position in various ways.

“The charity’s HSBC account she had access to initially had only cheque books, but she applied for, and used, a debit card in January last year. 

“She would either obtain cash or use it for her own spending, similarly with the cheques.”

There were also the cash proceeds of a festival held in June last year, which Strong took home with her and then failed to pay it all into the charity’s account.

In addition, she paid a cheque from a sponsor into her own bank account, said Miss Moore.

Her dishonesty was discovered by Kineton Musical Festival’s chairman, and in a series of texts between them Strong immediately admitted taking the money and promised to pay it back.

The police were informed, and when she was arrested she said she had ‘money troubles’ at the time, and was trying to pay back what she had taken.

Miss Moore said as a result of Strong’s dishonesty, a planned community project to build a disabled toilet could not go ahead, and it was feared there was a risk sponsors would lose confidence in the charity.

Wykeham Garcia, defending, said Strong, who Judge Andrew Lockhart QC observed had ‘self-diagnosed’ as being bipolar, refers to herself as having been ‘three people’ at that time.

She has lost the job she had held for 11 years following her guilty plea, and the ‘centre of her life’ is her daughter and her husband who has now taken charge of all the family’s finances.

“She ended up with these three different personalities, and unfortunately when she got this position [as treasurer] those came to the fore.

“She would go on mad spending sprees, and would not use the money in the way it should have been used.  But to her credit, she has managed to pay £13,000 back by borrowing the money from her mother.”

Sentencing Strong, Judge Lockhart told her: “You are a mother, and you should be a role model for your child.

“You were occupying a position of trust as treasurer of the Kineton Music Festival, which is a charitable organisation to make money for those less fortunate than, certainly, yourself.

“You abused your position of trust as their treasurer, taking £23,000 and more.  You undertook significant planning, and the activity went on for a sustained period of time.

“The most significant matter is that you obtained a debit card.  You forged a signature to do so, and obtained goods and cash worth £17,000 with it. That’s the equivalent of a significant salary after tax.

“You also cashed and used their cheques and took other money with which you were entrusted.

          “You spent it on personal items and living well beyond the means your husband and yourself would have been able to have otherwise.  You have nothing to show for it.”

          The judge said he was ‘just persuaded’ to suspend the sentence, but warned Strong: “I reserve any breaches to myself.  If you breach this and come back before me, I will send you to custody unless it would be unjust to do so.”

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