A social club treasurer brought a community centre to the brink of closure after stealing more than £12,000.
Volunteer Denis Hall paid himself hundreds of pounds each month from the trading account of Bispham Community Centre by submitting false information to help pay off credit card debts he had run up on a Spanish holiday.
He took £12,700 from the centre over four years.
Such was the scale of his fraud that when his co-workers discovered the cash was missing they feared the community hub would be forced to close down for good.
Only the fund-raising work of volunteers kept the centre afloat, Preston Crown Court was told. However, it will be three years before the centre is back on a firm financial footing.
Hall, 69, of Chislehurst Avenue, South Shore, was yesterday given 12 months prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to repay £12,730.87 within 12 months.
The centre’s new treasurer, Peter Wallace, today told The Gazette people were stunned to discover a former church leader had stolen from them.
He added: “It’s difficult to believe someone would do that to the people he used to work with and for.”
“It’s unbelievable– he used to be a leading member of the church.”
Hall pleaded guilty to one offence of fraud and four of false accounting.
Preston Crown Court heard Hall’s crimes began after his wife lost her job, and continued over a five year period from January 2007 to January 2012.
He had become acting caretaker at the centre in 1998, 10 years after retiring from his job as a hospital porter, but soon became treasurer, on a voluntary basis.
But towards the end of 2011 he became less visible at the centre.
At the same time, a club using the centre complained about the lack of heating and a Health and Safety (HSE) inspection was carried out of the premises.
Weeks later a letter was sent to the centre regarding an unpaid ground rent bill of £5,200.
Then in early February the centre was threatened with closure unless improvement work was not carried out, following the HSE inspection.
An emergency committee meeting was called but Hall did not attend.
By the end of the meeting it was found that despite accounts showing the centre had funds of more than £30,000, it had just £1,200 left.
Mr Wallace, a retired business manager, took control of running the centre and sought out the accountants said to have been used, only to find an empty premises.
He said: “I was annoyed.
“You wonder how on earth people can do these things.”
Police were called in and Hall admitted the offences. He had no previous convictions.
He spoke of having used money to pay off debts he had run up on credit cards, while on holiday in Spain, taking around £400-500 a month.
In the months following a number of groups left the centre because of the heating, causing further losses, and an unexpected bill was sent for £6,250 for unpaid ground work.
Joe Allman, prosecuting, said: “Mr Wallace worked hard and secured £3,000 emergency funding from the council. It will take
another three years for the club to break even.”
Recorder Kevin Grice, said: “It brought a well needed community resource very close to closure. Others had to do sterling work to try and resurrect it and even yet, it is still not out of the woods financially.”
After sentencing, Mr Wallace said: “There wouldn’t be a lot gained from him going to jail. But it’s a fair result and we’ll see what happens in 12 months time and if we can get some of the money back.
“The poor fella’s reputation is shot, which is a sad thing when you get to that age.
“If it had been a company I should have shut the club down, because it was losing so much money and in debt.
“But we had all sorts of groups using the centre, they would have had to find somewhere else.
“I’m glad it’s come to a conclusion at long last.”