The British Red Cross has said it is "devastated" after a long-standing employee admitted stealing more than £350,000 from the charity.
Mary Booth, 56, of Croydon in south London, pleaded guilty at Paisley Sheriff Court in Renfrewshire yesterday to embezzling £359,551.27 from the charity’s accounts over a seven-year period.
Booth was the charity’s payroll manager when, in November 2008, she began making payments that were apparently directed towards current and former employees of the charity but were actually going to accounts set up in her own name.
When she retired in August 2015 after a 33-year career with the charity, other members of staff noticed discrepancies in the accounts and uncovered her theft.
Booth began siphoning money off when she worked at the charity’s headquarters in central London, but after it moved its payroll operations to Paisley in Scotland in 2008 she also moved and continued to embezzle the money.
In a statement, Mike Adamson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "We were devastated to discover that a long-serving employee in a position of trust had defrauded us. Every day we strive to help some of the most vulnerable people in the UK and overseas and for our trust to be abused in this way is really, really disappointing."
He said the charity had alerted the police and the Charity Commission as soon as it discovered the fraud and carried out an independent forensic financial audit.
"This member of staff was trusted to handle our money and that has given us cause to think long and hard about how we tighten up our procedures," Adamson said. "We have put robust measures in place to prevent this from ever happening again."
He said these included limiting access to key parts of the charity’s financial system, reducing the ways payments could be made, tightening controls so that payments could be generated centrally only by a smaller number of people and increased checks on payments before they were processed.
"As a result, we are confident that such fraud could not happen now," he said.
"We are deeply shocked that someone from within the Red Cross community would betray our cause and our trust in this way. We are doing everything we can to recover the lost funds."
A Charity Commission spokesman said the regulator was aware of the theft and that the charity had complied with official guidance by notifying the commission and the police.
"We have engaged with the charity and sought information from it regarding the circumstances of the fraud," he said. "The commission continues to engage with the charity in regards to its efforts to recover the lost funds from the former employee. As a result of the incident, we are considering the charity’s internal financial controls as a part of this case.
"Unfortunately, charities are not immune to fraud, and it is sad that an internal employee would seek to hinder the valuable work a charity is undertaking"
He urged all charities to ensure they had proper counter-fraud measures and strong financial controls in place."
Booth is due to appear in court for sentencing on 17 August.