A fraudster who arranged charity appearances for celebrities like The Stig and Katie Price but failed to hand over the money has walked free from court.
Simon Mitchell, 44, claimed he was dying from lymphoma when he approached a Blackpool children’s charity, insisting he wanted to create a bucket list of ways he could help others in need realise their dreams.
But after telling Donna’s Dream House charity that he had just two years to live, he used the opportunity to line his pockets with expensive equipment.
The former PR man used his celebrity contacts to arrange for poorly youngsters to meet stars like The Stig and Katie Price, but his donations were never received.
Following a three-year investigation he was finally sentenced at Preston Crown Court yesterday to a 16-week jail term, suspended for 18 months.
Prosecutor Jon Close told the court: “The reason he gave for wanting to undertake the work was because he was terminally ill and dying and he wanted to give something back and do charitable work for children.
“The role he was to undertake was fundraising and obtaining gifts that could be used to gain money for the charity.
“He started work from the outset as being terminally ill.”
But Mr Close said Mitchell’s medical records obtained by the court revealed he was not dying after all.
He said: “He was not terminally ill, this was a lie. He was never dying.
“In 2012, he had a biopsy on his lymph nodes and it was suspected to be cancerous but this was never the case. It was completely not true.
“He has ongoing cardial and respiratory difficulties on his medical record but in respect of these, his records note that those treating him have reasons to doubt what he’s said.”
The court heard how Mitchell, from Selby Avenue, South Shore, had been forced to quit his PR job for phone company Orange, but he used his contacts and expertise to help him reach his goal.
While working for Donna’s Dream House the wishes on his bucket list included securing family holidays, the latest games consoles and laptops and experience days for dying children.
Speaking in 2012, after telling people he’d had half of his right lung removed, Mitchell said: “If I manage this list and I die with a smile on my face, with people remembering me and with my wife proud of me, then it will all have been worth it.
“It might all make my condition worse but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.
“I’ll only stop when my body tells me to stop.
“I call up companies and pull on their heart strings with pictures and news articles about deserving people.
“Once they’ve helped, I’ll send them a certificate with a picture of the person that’s benefited so they can remember what a brilliant thing they’ve done.”
But when satellite navigation firm Tom Tom contacted the charity in relation to a donation made that the charity had never received, Mitchell’s thefts began to come to light.
Mr Close said: “Around the same time he was to attend the wedding of a colleague’s son but just days before he said he was too unwell and never returned to work.
“He was sent emails asking for the return of the laptop and mobile phone given to him to assist him in his work but they were never returned, even to this day.”
Speaking outside court, Len Curtis, chairman of the charity, described Mitchell’s work at the charity, saying there was “always a catch to it”.
He said: “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.”
He added how the charity was left red-faced after a “Top Gear Day” Mitchell was supposed to organise never happened despite the cause auctioning it as a prize, having to later reimburse the disappointed winner.
“He left people waiting at the station for people that didn’t turn up,” said Mr Curtis, adding there had been a similar occasion with a Ferrari experience that never materialised.
He said the two blunders had cost the charity around £6,500 to put right.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to two counts of theft - totalling a sum of £543.50 - in relation to the mobile phone and laptop that he stole from Donna’s Dream House.
Richard Bennett, defending him, said: “I hope the court doesn’t think I’m lessening the seriousness of the case in any way.
“While the items are not excessive in monetary value, it’s a breach of trust and there’s no doubt about that.”
Sentencing Mitchell, Judge Christopher Cornwall also enforced a 12-month supervision order and a four-month electronic curfew.
He was also told he must pay £543.50 in compensation to Donna’s Dream House and £500 costs to the court.
Judge Cornwall said: “This is by any reckoning a despicable act.”
Mr Curtis added: “We were gullible but when you’re faced with a dying man who wants to do his bit in his final days, it would not be in our hearts to have turned him away.”