Our Sutton reporter BELLE MONT on an 11th hour additional charge for fraudster which puts pressure on his former colleagues at the council
Alan Salter, the former Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton who stole more than £12,000 from local charities, yesterday escaped a spell in prison when he was handed a 10-month suspended sentence, because of his frail health.Salter has prostate cancer, and the 67-year-old looked very frail when he appeared at Croydon Crown Court.
That did not prevent the judge, in her summing up, telling the former accountant that he had been part of “a deplorable state of affairs”, and had committed “an appalling breach of trust”.
“You have lied and lied,” Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Smaller told Salter.
It had emerged in court yesterday that Salter had not only taken money from one charity for the elderly, Carshalton Association for the Elderly, but over a period of a year had also committed fraud by abuse of his position at Sutton Seniors Forum, a charity where he was treasurer and trustee. One of Salter’s fellow trustees at SSF was Brenda Dombey, the mother of Ruth Dombey, the leader of Sutton council.
Salter admitted this additional charge.
Until last year, Salter had been a key member of Ruth Dombey’s LibDem group which controls Sutton Council, chairing the council scrutiny committee and vice-chair of the audit committee. He resigned as a councillor in June 2016, shortly before he was arrested as part of the investigation into his conduct.
No one from the Sutton Liberal Democrats attended Croydon Crown Court to act as a character witness on behalf of their colleague.
In August 2016, Salter had pleaded guilty at Croydon Magistrates Court to a charge of fraud by abuse of position to steal £8,225 from Carshalton Association for the Elderly, the local meals on wheels charity. Between July 2015 and May 2016, he exploited his role as treasurer and trustee writing 26 cheques to himself and for cash, and forging another trustee’s signature.
In July this year, Salter pleaded guilty to two further charges of theft relating to his own work as an accountant. Between June and August 2016, Salter stole £1,287.06 and £332.50 from a client, Kevin Butterfield. The sums were tax rebates from HMRC that Salter failed to pass on to his client.And then yesterday, the additional, fourth charge involving Sutton Seniors Forum was brought against Salter.
Police sources suggest that the further investigation into Salter’s conduct at SSF came about after coverage in Private Eye magazine and on Inside Croydon. This followed a report last year from the Charity Commission which criticised Sutton Seniors Forum because “the trustees failed to report a serious incident to the Commission or to make a report to the police when they first identified concerns”.
Speaking in court yesterday, Mr Ian Foinette, prosecuting, said that Salter had totally failed in his duties to Sutton Seniors Forum.
Salter attended a board meeting in September 2015 where the chairman identified a number of administrative problems relating to finance. Salter had applied for a bank card for the charity to be able to withdraw cash easily. The board noted that there were a number of unpaid bills. Subsequently, the charity’s former treasurer, Brenda Dombey, was recalled to replace Salter as treasurer.When Brenda Dombey went through the financial records, said Mr Foinette, she found that none had been kept.
Eleven cheques had been made out to cash, and another trustee had pre-signed the cheques so Salter could simply add his own to make withdrawals.
The charity identified that £3,682 was missing, together with a further estimated £360 that had been given to the charity in cash. Salter then gave the charity three cheques to cover the missing funds, two of which bounced. He also put £1,000 in an envelope through the door of another trustee.
Salter remained as a serving Sutton councillor for a further nine months after that charity board meeting.
There has been some suggestion that Salter might have been using his access to the accounts of the two charities to try to balance one set of books, to avoid detection, although this was not touched upon during yesterday court procedures.
Mr Foinette said that at Carshalton Association for the Elderly, where Salter was a trustee and treasurer for more than four years, the chair, Pauline Bier, began an investigation into the accounts after Salter failed to attend the annual meeting in spring 2016. She found 26 cheques had been made out to cash, and noticed that on some cheques her signature had been forged. She called in the police.
Under police interview, Salter stated that he was in dire financial straits. The rent on his home had gone up and drinking had become a problem for him. He was trying to support his lifestyle and pay bills.
Mr Paul Edwards, defending, told the court in mitigation that Salter made no excuses for his actions.Salter’s business was in decline and his long-term relationship had broken down. He said that Salter was deeply ashamed for abusing the trust placed in him, and wanted to make reparation. He had been trying to get his life back on track.
Mr Edwards noted that in February 2017 Salter was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer, that he was undergoing chemotherapy and that his prospects were considered poor but remained somewhat uncertain until treatment is completed in September. In light of Salter’s serious health issues, and given that Salter had no previous convictions, he asked the judge for a suspended sentence.
Sentencing, Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Smaller said that Salter was motivated by personal gain and this was clearly an abuse of power and trust. He had initially assisted the charities in an honest capacity for several years. “You were trusted by those organisations, and you have abused the trust placed in you.
“At Sutton Seniors Forum, you failed entirely to comply with your duties, and fobbed off the trustees with outright lies. You also pocketed cash payments from the charity’s members. When confronted, you prevaricated and lied.”
She added: “Your position throughout has been to minimise the role of your wrongdoing. It is a deplorable state of affairs. An appalling breach of trust. You have lied and lied.
“You have lost your good character, reputation and standing in the community.”
Noting that Salter had stolen a total of £13,500, Judge Smaller told him that only a prison sentence could be justified. He received a 15-month sentence, reduced to 10 months for an early guilty plea, for the Sutton Seniors Forum fraud, 11 months reduced to nine for the Carshalton Association for the Elderly fraud, and eight months reduced to seven for the thefts from Butterfield, all to run concurrently.
But taking into account Salter’s previous good character and his cancer prognosis, Judge Smaller suspended the sentence for 18 months, and ordered him to pay compensation of £1,600 to Mr Butterfield and £200 to Carshalton Association for the Elderly, at the rate of £75 per month.
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