AN ex-soldier accused of a £330,000 charity scam for injured servicemen told a jury today he only wanted to “make a difference”.
William Knight, 51, wore a black blazer with the Paratroopers winged regimental badge on the chest and the regimental tie as he gave evidence in his defence at Preston Crown Court.
“I know what its like to be an ex-soldier,” he told the jury.
“I know what it’s like to be disabled. That’s what I intended to do, to make a difference to their lives.”
He is accused, along with fellow defendants John Wadsworth, 46, and Patrick Jarrett, 49, of conning the public by making them believe they were donating to help injured servicemen and women.
Sellers in military-style clothing representing the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) UK Ltd targeted high streets, shopping centres and event venues across the UK selling raffle tickets. They cost £2.50 with the chance to win a car or £10,000 cash.
The stated purpose on the tickets was to raise £10,000 for WWP UK Ltd, which would give handouts to needy ex-forces personnel.
Collections were also taken in buckets while tickets were sold from stalls.
But none of the proceeds went anywhere near an injured serviceman or woman, according to prosecutors for Blackpool Council’s Trading Standards team.
It was later found more than 133,000 tickets were sold out of more than 180,000 printed and they generated sales of £332,707.
The organisers claimed the money from the ticket sales was intended to go on wages and administration costs and the bucket collections were the only source of cash for WWP UK Ltd, which was not a registered charity.
Knight today told the jury his father and grandfather served in the forces and he himself joined the Parachute Regiment in 1977 serving in Northern Ireland, Belize and the Falklands Islands before leaving in 1985.
He has two sons in the forces, he told the jury.
Knight told the jury: “The transition from soldier to civilian is not an easy one.”
The defendant said he lost part of his left foot in an accident while working in a warehouse.
Later he became a professional fund-raiser and it “took over” his life as the enterprise expanded.
Knight told the jury with himself being both “ex services and disabled” he had the idea to raise funds to give individual donations to help former soldier with the costs of such things as installing stairlifts, widening doors for wheelchairs and the like.
The jury heard around £10,000 was to be handed over to the well-known charity Help For Heroes at a charity night – until they decided not to be involved and cut ties with the organisation.
But on the day of the fund-raising handover – December 21, 2009 – there was a burglary at the Wounded Warrior’s office in Blackpool and their safe containing £16,000 was stolen.
The culprit has not been found and no-one has been charged with that offence, the court heard.
Russell Davies, defending Knight, asked him: “What’s being suggested is, this was a fraud from the outset, you always intended to dishonestly obtain money by cheating the public?”
“That’s wrong,” Knight replied. “In hindsight I could’ve tightened up.”
Ben Williams, prosecuting, said: “The reality is you did nothing more than help yourself. You took a wage. You took commission on top of that wage. You paid your legal fees out of collection buckets.”
Mr Williams told the court the defendant drove around in a Chrysler car paid out of charity funds and when they went to fund-raising events travel, hotel and food was also all paid for out of donations.
Knight, of Midgeland Road, Marton; Wadsworth, of Church Street, Blackpool; and Jarrett, of Teal Court, Blackpool, all deny conspiracy to defraud and possession of criminal property, namely the monies acquired from the ticket sales, between December 2009 and June 2010.