A man who wanted to use celebrity contacts to help him raise £100,000 for sick and needy children stole from a charity for terminally ill youngsters.
Bosses at Blackpool’s Donna’s Dream House today told of their anger and upset after Simon Mitchell admitted stealing from them.
It is soul destroying when the trust you place in someone is betrayed
They said the 44-year-old volunteer worker repeatedly let them down and left them picking up the pieces when meetings with his supposedly high-profile contacts failed to materialise.
Mitchell approached the charity-funded hotel, which offers holidays to terminally ill children, shortly after it was devastated by an arson attack in 2011.
And after a criminal investigation spanning three years, Mitchell of Selby Avenue, South Shore, finally pleaded guilty to two counts of theft on the day he was due to stand trial at Preston Crown Court.
Speaking after the hearing, Len Curtis, chairman of trustees at Donna’s Dream House, said: “He came to us immediately after the fire, when we were very vulnerable.
“We were taking people on face value and we allowed him to get involved because he knew all these people.
“It is soul destroying when the trust you place in someone is betrayed.”
He claimed there was “always a catch to it” when Mitchell carried out work for the charity.
Mr Curtis explained: “He would promise people things with these celebrities in exchange for goods (and services). When he failed to deliver they never finished the work.
“There were just the odd small things that he did deliver.”
And Mr Curtis said the charity was left red-faced when a ‘Top Gear Day’ Mitchell was supposedly organising never happened.
He said: “We offered it as an auction prize and had to reimburse the money because it never came off.
“He left people waiting at the station for people that didn’t turn up.”
Mr Curtis said there was a similar problem with a Ferrari experience that Mitchell had been supposed to organise.
He estimated the two incidents had cost the charity around £6,500 to put right.
As a volunteer, it is not claimed Mitchell profited from these incidents.
The arrival of Mitchell at Donna’s Dream House came months after he hit national headlines for his “bucket list” of good deeds he wanted to complete, after revealing he had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to raise cash for poorly youngsters.
He arranged for ill children to meet celebrities such as TV’s The Stig and Katie Price, saying his aim was to raise £100,000 in the two years doctors had given him after one of his lungs was stricken by the disease.
But Mr Curtis said the charity became suspicious of Mitchell when Belgian satellite navigations firm TomTom got in touch about a donation it had made – but the charity had never received.
He said: “We didn’t see this coming. He was only with us for a few months but this has had a detrimental effect on us.
“He was given a laptop and a phone to use by the Dream House but he never returned them.”
And he said he hoped the case would serve as a warning to other charities.
Mr Curtis added: “We did it more because of the publicity surrounding him and what he was doing. We want to make other people aware.
“At long last this theft can be put behind us.
“It has been a long three years with this case going back and forwards with numerous visits to the courts and I’m relieved that this is now over.
“I would urge all charities to show due diligence when accepting offers of support particularly at vulnerable times.”
Mitchell pleaded guilty to stealing a mobile phone and laptop computer, worth hundreds of pounds, from the Dream House between New Year’s Day and September 1, 2012. He also admitted stealing a satellite navigations system from the same charity.
He is due to be sentenced at Preston Crown Court on May 6.