Charity nearly folded as disabled worker spent £10,000 on eBay
A STAFF member nearly caused the collapse of a long-established disability charity by taking more than £10,000 from its accounts – and lavishing it on cameras, computers and other electrical goods.
Office administrator Andrew Macdonald, aged 26, has been jailed for six weeks for defrauding Independence South West.
Chairman of trustees John Brooks said outside court that he felt "betrayed".
He added: "It is not long enough and we still have not got our money back."
Mr Brooks said it was worse because Macdonald himself is disabled, walking with a stick because of the bone condition rickets.
Plymouth Crown Court was told that the 72-year-old charity was driven "close to the brink of collapse" by Macdonald's greed.
Pay to some staff was delayed and the charity had to take out an overdraft.
Judge Jeremy Griggs told him: "This was serious offending in a clear breach of trust. In my judgement I would be failing in my public duty if I did not impose an immediate custodial term."
Macdonald, of North Down Gardens, Keyham, admitted nine offences of fraud by abuse of position between March and June last year.
He asked for 61 similar offences, relating to other fraudulent transactions, to be taken into account.
Sarah Vince, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the charity lost just over £10,000.
She added Macdonald, who initially worked as a volunteer, was given a staff job and took over the accounts, using previous experience of running book-keeping software.
Miss Vince said he was authorised to use the company's eBay account.
She added the charity suffered what it described as a "payroll crisis" in June last year.
The court heard that Macdonald was asked about the accounts, but "made excuses".
Miss Vince said he in the meantime had confessed to a friend who contacted the charity.
She added: "The defendant had been accessing company accounts to dishonestly purchase numerous items from auction sites, including electrical items, expensive cameras and website subscriptions."
Miss Vince said police searched Macdonald's address and seized laptops, phones, cameras and other items, which he formally forfeited.
She read a statement from the charity which said it had been brought "close to the brink of collapse".
The charity, founded by parents and carers in 1951, runs a respite centre in Plymstock for people with a wide range of disabilities.
The statement added that clients with autism and other learning disabilities had struggled to understand what had happened, and needed reassurance it would not close.
Staff pay had been delayed, the court heard.
The court heard Macdonald had two previous convictions in 2005, one for theft and one for obtaining services by deception.
Nigel Hall, for Macdonald, said he felt "sickness in his stomach" about what he had done.
He added he faced a series of operations on his legs because of his rickets.
Mr Hall said Macdonald had sold some of the items he bought and put the profits back into a company account.
He added: "He gave into temptation when legitimately using the accounts and started to buy things he wanted but could not afford."
Mr Hall said Macdonald had written a letter of apology.
But Mr Brooks said outside court that he would throw it in the bin.
He added: "Our service users are incredibly vulnerable and need to feel safe but he put them through real uncertainty."
Mr Brooks stressed the charity would stay open and would contact the police about recovering the value of the goods Macdonald bought with charity money.