WITNESSES have told a jury how they were conned into handing over money to an alleged charity money fraud when they thought they were donating to injured war heroes.
Three Fylde coast businessmen set up stalls around the country, including Blackpool’s Houndshill Shopping Centre, to encourage people to buy lottery tickets and put money in buckets. But Preston Crown Court heard how the cash “went into the pockets of the sellers”.
The proceeds went to Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) UK Ltd - and not to injured servicemen or women, the jury heard..
More than 133,083 ticket stubs - sold at £2.50 each with the chance to win a car or £10,000 in cash - were recovered during an investigation by Blackpool Council Trading Standards.
But only £10,000 of the £332,707.50 sales was donated to the Help for Heroes armed forces charity, the court was told.
Alan Greenhalgh bought two tickets from the Houndshill stall in January 2010.
In a statement read out in court, he said: “The sellers seemed to be selling something which was an extremely good cause.
“No explanation was given to me about how much would go on to the charities.
“I assumed a large proportion of the money would go to charities and if it wasn’t for the fact I thought it was going to the military profession, I would have never bought the tickets.”
Elaine Farrier, who spent £5 on her tickets in Skipton, claimed when she had asked the company if they were affiliated with Help for Heroes, the replied they were.
She said the sellers were shouting “Help wounded British soldiers”.
She told the court: “I went up to one of them and I asked if they were helping Help for Heroes and he said ‘yes’.”
She thought it strange when she asked the vendor what regiment he served in and he did not reply.
“They were doing a roaring trade,” she told the jury. “They gave the impression that they were representing the Army.
“I’m quite sure the person did say they were affiliated to Help for Heroes, definitely, otherwise I would not have purchased the ticket.”
William Knight, 51, of Midgeland Road, Marton, John Wadsworth, 46, of Church Street, Blackpool, and Patrick Jarrett, 49, of Teal Court, Blackpool, all deny conspiracy to defraud and possession of criminal property.
Ben Williams, prosecuting, told Preston Crown Court, said: “It doesn’t matter how many tickets were actually printed or sold - none of the proceeds went anywhere near an injured service man or woman - they went into the pockets of the sellers.
“The money went towards their own costs to travel the country.
“It’s surprising only a relatively small amount in the context of the tickets sales would’ve been generated and this was an attempt to provide an air of legitimacy to the operation as a whole.
“All this was really done to make the purchaser believe that all or at least some of the £2.50 they handed over was going to this worthwhile cause.
“They were being deliberately misled.”
The court heard how the defendants made an application to Help for Heroes in July 2009 to run a competition.
Help for Heroes allowed for its name to be used but then severed ties with the Wounded Warriors Project, which had offices at Whitehills Business Park, after the charity received a number of complaints from people who had bought tickets.
Knight and Jarrett met with a Help for Heroes representative in January 2010 when it was made clear they did not want the defendants collecting in the charity’s name any longer.
During the meeting Knight handed over a £6,000 cheque, £3,000 in cash and £1,000 in credit, the court heard.
Russell Davies, defending Knight, said: “There are many charities and many of them are supported by professional fundraisers. Help for Heroes is one such company.
“When you buy a teddy bear (from the charity) you are not buying it from the charity you are buying it from the company.”
The organisers said the money from the ticket sales was intended to go on wages and administration costs and that the bucket collections were the only source of cash for WWP UK Ltd, which was not a registered charity.
Trading Standards seized competition tickets, laptop computers, display banners and a paying-in book from their Blackpool offices in May 2010. This led to Knight and Jarrett being interviewed by council officers.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.