£60,000 fraud probe at Blackpool charity

Bispham Ward Councillor Don Clapham
Bispham Ward Councillor Don Clapham
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POLICE are investigating claims thousands of pounds have been stolen from a Blackpool charity.

Bispham Community Centre is now the focus of a fraud probe after it was revealed the charity-run facility has been brought to its knees and left with just £230 in savings.

It is believed £60,000 has gone missing from the charity’s bank account over nine years and police have been called in to investigate allegations of fraud.

Peter Wallace, one of the trustees of the Bispham Road centre, which has been running since the 1970s, said: “People were staggered, they were so shocked.

“It’s unbelievable.”

A 67-year-old man has been interviewed by police as part of their investigation into the missing cash.

And Mr Wallace added: “The centre has got a lot of history and is used by a lot of people. On paper we had the money to carry things out, but the cupboard was bare. We are almost living hand to mouth, we are having to be very careful.”

The popular centre – which was supported by the late Violet Carson, who played Ena Sharples in Coronation Street and lived in Bispham before she died – is used weekly by around 300 people doing photography classes, belly dancing, chess and taekwondo, as well as the Primary Care Trust using the facility.

But, despite the clubs paying their fees to the centre, problems began to arise last year.

The Gazette reported in December how complaints had been made over the state of the building, and Blackpool Council health and safety chiefs were called in to check the electrical and gas installations.

Coun Don Clapham flagged up people’s concerns that the centre – which consists of a large hall and stage, two smaller rooms, a kitchen and toilet facilities – had inadequate heating and the systems in place were dangerous.

Blackpool Council offered advice on improvements which needed to be made. But when an issue arose with unpaid ground rent to the council, officers became suspicious.

A Blackpool Council spokesman said: “Bispham Community Centre is located on land owned by Blackpool Council.

“In recent months there has been an issue with unpaid ground rent and health and safety which has led to us having concerns about the management of the centre.

“We will assist the police with their inquiries if needed.”

Mr Wallace added: “We got a letter saying we owed money – back rent. We also got a bill for £3,000 after the heating system was condemned.

“I called a meeting in February with the current people running the centre, ex-trustees, the police and people from the council. That’s when alarm bells started to ring.”

Police were brought in to investigate the missing cash.

A Blackpool Police spokesman said: “We were made aware of concerns at the end of February.

“We have spoken to a 67-year-old man who voluntarily attended the police station in March. He has been interviewed and a number of inquiries are now being carried out.”

The centre is now being run by a new committee.

A new heating system has been installed by Whitehead Gas Service and the electrics have been updated by Gee’s Electrical Engineers so the clubs can continue to use the premises.

Mr Wallace added: “We just want to move forward and get things like it used to be. It’s going to be a struggle, but we will get there.”

Bispham ward councillor Clapham added: “Speaking to people who used the centre, it seemed a lot of money was being paid for rental of the rooms from clubs and the blood transfusion service but nothing seemed to go back into the building.”