Sunday, November 29, 2009

Uncle steals trust fund from British 5-year-old amputee

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

When Ellie May Challis (pictured) lost her arms and legs to meningitis, hundreds of well-wishers from across the country donated money to a fund set up in her name in order to help her.

The five-year-old's grateful parents, overwhelmed by the generosity of the public, turned to a relative they trusted to safeguard every penny - her uncle, banker Darren Pease.

However, the Lloyds TSB risk manager, 33, plundered more than £315,000 from the account over three years, spending money on jewellery and holidays to save his failing marriage, a court heard.

The father of two has now been jailed for four years. He turned himself in to police in June after the family discovered there was just £239 left in the fund.

He had also taken £65,000 from the life savings of his grandmother, Joyce Pease, who lives in sheltered accommodation, a court heard.

Pease, from Romford in Essex, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of committing fraud while in a position of trust and obtaining property by deception. Another 31 offences were taken into consideration.

Sentencing him, Judge Ian Graham described the crimes as a 'repugnant' breach of the trust of his family and all the well-wishers who donated money to help make Ellie May's life more comfortable.

'The fact that you have then moved on to your own grandmother is almost like the punchline from some gruesome joke,' he told Pease at Basildon Crown Court.

Pease learned how to carry out the scam as part of fraud training at work, his former wife told the Daily Mail yesterday. He allegedly 'scanned' signatures of a second trustee on to cheques so he could cash them.

'He was putting them on to the cheques because they needed two signatures,' explained Jacqueline, 38.

'Because he worked for the fraud team in the bank they had to teach staff how to commit fraud in order to teach them how to recognise it. It was by doing the banking training he was able to steal from them. I believe that's why they (Lloyds) have paid the money back to Ellie.'

Breaking down in tears, she added it was still unclear what he had spent the vast bulk of the money on.

'He's ruined us, absolutely ruined us. Four years just isn't long enough for what he has done to us all,' she added. 'He's betrayed so many people. Fortunately, we're a strong family, otherwise this would have broken me and the children completely.

'He made out in court that he spent the money on holidays, things for the house and other "bits and pieces" to try and keep his marriage happy. I didn't realise it wasn't.

'For all I know, he could have the money stashed somewhere for when he comes out. Me and the children are now going to be made homeless because of what he has done.'

Lloyds TSB, which held the fund for Ellie May, had repaid the stolen money into the account, she explained, but now plans to repossess the family home.

Speaking last night, Ellie May's mother, Lisa, said her brother-in-law deserved longer in prison as his stealing meant she could not buy her daughter a motorised wheelchair for a beach trip.

'This man robbed my little girl's legs,' said the 36-year-old from Clacton, Essex. 'She was devastated when she could not go on the sand with the other kids.

'She adored Darren. We've tried to shelter her from what has happened but she has overheard conversations and this morning she said to me, "Is Uncle Darren going to prison for stealing my money?"'.

A spokesman for Lloyds TSB would not comment on the case but it is believed Pease has been sacked.

Ellie May, who lives with parents Paul and Lisa and her three siblings, was just 16 months old when she was taken to hospital with meningitis. Doctors battled to save her life as septicaemia caused her system to shut down, stopping the blood flow to her legs.

Six weeks later, she underwent a six-hour operation to amputate her arms and legs.

Originally fitted with unsuitable NHS legs, her family raised £20,000 from donations to buy her private ones and last year she was able to walk to her first day at school.