Published: 00:01, 13 February 2016
A fundraiser stole hundreds of pounds from the Royal British Legion and spent the cash on fireworks, dolls, toy prams and a Microsoft mobile phone.
Derek Russell was the Poppy Appeal organiser for Ashford from 2014 up to November last year, a role which saw him hit the streets and knock on people’s doors to raise money to help ex-servicemen and their families.
But while he appeared to be a trustworthy member of the Ashford branch, he was secretly taking cash while other members of staff went to make tea or use the telephone.
He was rumbled by his wife, who also volunteered for the charity, when she saw him making the bizarre purchases and spotted rolls of bank notes in his wallet.
The 53-year-old from Clover Court in Willesborough was arrested and charged with theft shortly after Mrs Russell confronted him.
Russell, who has recently become unemployed, appeared at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court last week where he pleaded guilty to stealing £605 from the coffers of the charity.
Prosecutor Neil Sweeney said Russell’s wife suspected him after seeing wads of cash in his wallet, which was used to buy expensive fireworks and a new Microsoft mobile phone from the Carphone Warehouse, despite his meagre income from Job Seekers Allowance.
Mr Sweeney said: “He was responsible for collecting money in tins and buckets and for the banking of the money.
“His wife noted a large amount of cash in his wallet and questioned him about it. He said it was from a Territorial Army pension.
'This offence is inexplicable. It’s an obvious breach of public trust,' - Judge Justin Barron
“A month later she saw him purchase two children’s dolls and prams and once again saw a number of bank notes in his wallet. She suspected it was from the Poppy Appeal.
“When Russell was pressed by his wife he then said ‘well, they get plenty’. She told the president of the Ashford branch Peter Bishop, who checked the books.
“In the ledgers there was a discrepancy for the amount which had been collected and the amount which was paid into the bank account.”
Police charged father-of-three Russell on November 18, and asked if his wife, who was the branch secretary, was involved, but he said she wasn’t.
When asked how he would steal the money with so many other volunteers and branch members present he told them he took the cash when they went on tea breaks or took a telephone call.
Judge Justin Barron told Russell: “This offence is inexplicable. You are a man of 53 with no previous convictions. It’s an obvious breach of public trust.”
He also warned Russell that all punishment options would be considered, including a possible prison sentence, pending a probation report into his character.
Russell will return to court to be sentenced later this month.
The Ashford branch of the Royal British Legion, based in offices in Church Road, raised more than £23,000 for the Poppy Appeal in 2015, having raised well over £30,000 the previous year.
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