BELLE MONT, our Sutton reporter, on how a meals on wheels service has been jeopardised by the actions of a LibDem councillor in Carshalton
The Carshalton Association For The Elderly, the charity which ran meals on wheel and other services for Sutton pensioners for nearly 40 years, has been forced to close after its accounts had been defrauded of thousands of pounds by one of its own trustees.
Inside Croydon was the first to report the web of deceit, lies and theft conducted by Alan Salter when he was supposed to be one of the charity’s trustees. At the time of his fraud, Salter was a senior Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton, and also the treasurer of Carshalton Association For The Elderly and another, related charity, the Sutton Seniors Forum.
Salter was convicted in 2017 of defrauding more than £12,000 from the two charities. The judge, in her remarks at sentencing, condemned Salter for “an appalling breach of trust”.
“You have lied and lied,” Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Smaller told Salter, as she handed him a 10-month sentence, which was suspended because of the former LibDem councillor’s frail health.
But Salter had already condemned one of the charities, CAFTE, to its demise.
The trustees who had worked alongside Salter until his fraud was revealed were forced to close the charity in January this year, unable to make good the £8,000 hole that their erstwhile colleague had left in their accounts.
The case was covered yesterday in the BBC series, Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats.
The programme is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer here (only available for one month). To skip past worthy tales of North Sea search and rescue, fast-forward to about 32min 30sec.
The narrative of the BBC report is that the collapse of the charity Carshalton Association For The Elderly, which had been serving the community since 1978, might have been avoidable.
Brenda Dombey was the trustee at Sutton Seniors Forum who took over from Salter as treasurer when large amounts had gone missing from the accounts. Had she brought the matter to the attention of the police or the council sooner, some of the financial damage might have been averted.
Brenda Dombey is the mother of Ruth Dombey, the LibDem leader of Sutton Council and Salter’s political leader.
Despite Brenda Dombey’s obvious concerns, Salter was able to continue as a councillor for more than six months after he’d been displaced as treasurer over the dodgy accounting. Salter only resigned as a ward councillor shortly before his arrest on multiple fraud charges.
Nor did Ruth Dombey act to save CAFTE after the frauds had been exposed. Nick Mattey, the independent councillor, repeatedly urged Dombey and Sutton Council to step in and make good the £8,000 deficit in the charity’s accounts.
Today, if you call what was CAFTE’s office in the Old Rectory, off West Street in Carshalton, a woman answers the phone with a sharp, “Meals on Wheels.”
Mention Carshalton Association For The Elderly, though, and the volunteer in the office becomes noticeably anxious and defensive.
“You’ve no right to write anything about the charity,” she said, having not considered that the defrauding of the charity for which she volunteers by its own treasurer, and a sitting LibDem councillor, is obviously a serious matter of public interest.
Could we wait until Monday when someone called Sue would be in the office? Not if we are reporting the news today we couldn’t…
The volunteer, who refused to divulge her own name, took ours and our phone number, and said someone would call us back. When they called, soon after, that someone invited us to write a letter with our questions. We may have laughed at that point. So he suggested sending an email.
“But you’re on the phone now, why can’t you answer some simple questions?” we asked.
Click, brrrr. The line went dead.
There continues to be some form of meals on wheels service for the elderly in Carshalton, though no longer provided by CAFTE.
According to the official regulator, the Charity Commission, CAFTE “merged with and transferred its assets to the Sutton Old People’s Welfare Committee. It was removed from the Register of Charities on 19 January 2018″.
The Welfare Committee operates the Sutton Lodge Day Centre. The Welfare Committee’s latest set of accounts, to March 2017, came before the transfer of assets from CAFTE, and so no public record of what was left of CAFTE will be available via the Charity Commission before October this year, at the earliest.
Certainly, the Sutton Old People’s Welfare Committee is refusing to say how much money or other assets it received from the forced closure of CAFTE.
We tried to speak to Marilyn Gordon-Jones, the chair of trustees at the Welfare Committee. We asked how many meals on wheels her organisation is able to deliver in a week. “I no longer go out on the deliveries, so I don’t know that sort of information,” Gordon-Jones said, not sounding at all pompous, or silly.
We tried again. When the merger with Carshalton Association For The Elderly happened earlier this year, what assets did her Committee receive in the transfer? “I couldn’t possibly reveal that information without discussing with the trustees,” Gordon-Jones said, this time turning the pomposity meter up to 11.
But those figures will have to be declared and included in your accounts to the Charity Commission and the public. “I am terminating this conversation now.” Click, brrr…
Gordon-Jones had managed to make her organisation – like so many others in the Sutton charity sector, it seems – sound like it has something to hide.
What the Sutton Old People’s Welfare Committee’s latest accounts do show is that it made a £7,666 loss in 2016-2017, and that in September 2016, Sutton Council cut its grant funding. So it must be keen to find other revenue sources to enable it to continue its no doubt valuable operation.
WHEN ALAN SALTER did eventually resign as a councillor, it prompted a by-election in his Carshalton Central ward which saw the constituency MP, Tom Brake, out campaigning to replace a LibDem fraudster with another party member.
Today, we put a set of questions to Brake, asking what he, as the MP for Carshalton, had done to avert the collapse of Carshalton Association For The Elderly.
We also gave Brake the opportunity to comment on the regrettable circumstances surrounding the charity’s financial difficulties. And we asked the MP whether he had spoken to Ruth Dombey, the leader of Sutton Council, to ask “why she never acted sooner to avert this calamity, when her own mother stepped in to take over the duties of treasurer from Alan Salter at another, related charity, when she first became concerned about his criminal conduct?”
Brake has something of a deserved reputation of a media tart (others use a harsher term) when it comes to appearing on television or radio. But by the time of publication of this report today, the usually media-friendly MP had failed to respond to our questions about the serious matter of the financial collapse of a charity in his own constituency.
Odd that. Or maybe not.
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