Charity makes criminal checks mandatory after £19,000 theft

A Shropshire charity is to run criminal record checks on all of its office staff after an employee with a previous conviction for theft admitted stealing more than £19,000 to fund her cocaine addiction.

Gaynor Huggins was employed as a part-time finance officer and company secretary at Shrewsbury-based disabled dance charity the Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company when the thefts occurred between April 2006 and February this year. She had previously served 12 months in jail for stealing nearly £24,000 from a previous employer.

Rachel Freeman, artistic director of Blue Eyed Soul, said she had alerted police after noticing anomalies in routine internal audits. Investigations revealed that Huggins had stolen £19,355 from the charity, whose 2005/06 income was fractionally less than £200,000, using cheques and online transfers paid into her own account. She also transferred more than £2,500 from another of her employers to the charity in an attempt to cover up some of the thefts.

Freeman said she had had no idea that Huggins, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison at Shrewsbury Crown Court, had a drug problem or a previous conviction.

“We did full CRB checks on staff who have contact with clients, but we didn’t always do them on office staff,” she said. “We are a small organisation, and until something like this comes up and bites you, you don’t think about it. It has been a real eye-opener.”

She said the charity now had more stringent office practices, especially in financial matters, and was committed to running CRB checks on every new member of office staff. She added that the charity had managed to recoup some of the stolen money, but claimed another charity in the area was looking into whether it too had been defrauded by Huggins.

Huggins’s solicitor said the 35-year-old mother-of-three had been spending up to £1,000 a week on cocaine. “She has admitted everything she has done and is open about it,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said the question of whether charity staff needed to go through CRB checks was a matter for the trustees of individual charities. “If they are at all unsure, they should contact the CRB for more advice,” she said.

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