A Royal British Legion treasurer who stole more than £26,000 from Poppy Appeal collection tins and made out cheques to himself so he could go on foreign holidays has been jailed.
Pensioner Joseph Allen initially used the stolen money to pay off credit card debts but carried on spending and used more of the cash to pay for two holidays in Turkey, a judge was told.
The disgraced 70 year old, of Paterson Road, Aylesbury, abused his position as treasurer for the Bucks branch to write cheques worth £16,000 out to himself over a three year period - forging countersignatures so as not to raise suspicion.
He then dipped into collection tins used to raise money for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal and stole a further £10,000 which had been destined for former servicemen, the court was told.
Allen, who served in the forces for 15 years and was a volunteer at the Royal British Legion for 20 more, was jailed despite arrogantly boasting to former friends he “wasn’t going down.”
However he was this week starting a 16-month prison sentence after the crown court judge told him he had abused his position as treasurer to commit ‘a gross breach of trust’.
Judge Justin Cole told the defendant that although his offending had been caused by his cashflow problems, many of the people who had donated to the annual Poppy Appeal would have been short of money themselves.
The court heard that Allen served as treasurer for the Buckinghamshire branch of the Royal British Legion from 2009 until 2013.
Laura Blackband, prosecuting, told the court: “Effectively he had a great deal of control and knowledge of the accounts.
“It came to light in 2014 that there were a number of unexplained cheque payments to a J Allen from the British Legion account; a total of 23 unexplained cheques worth £16,190.05.
“They were cheques requiring countersignatures from others. They had effectively been forged - that’s how the defendant managed to carry out payment of those cheques.
“He was of course allowed to write cheques from that account to cover legitimate expenses but these were unexplained. They were not supported by any expense claims and he could not explain why they had been written.”
His offending did not stop there however, Ms Blackband told the court, as Allen then took cash straight from collection tins from 2011 to 2013.
Ms Blackband said the prosecution case was that Allen had taken £20,303 in cash from collection tins but this was disputed by the defence team, who said the figure was £10,303.
Ms Blackband said: “This was money he had failed to pay into the (British Legion) bank account. He appropriated the cash from the tins.”
The court was told Allen denied the offences when interviewed by police but confessed when he pleaded guilty to four charges of theft.
Tim Nutley, defending, said: “The reason he committed these offences was due to financial pressure. At the time he started committing these offences he found himself facing, he says, between £12,000 and £13,000 of debt to a mortgage company and also credit card companies.
“He used part of the money he stole to pay off that debt.”
He added however: “He also spent part of the money on two holidays which he went on with his wife to Turkey.”
Mr Nutley said: “The initial reason was financial pressure rather than sheer greed.
“He served in the armed forces for 15 years and the aims and interests of the British Legion were very much at his heart because of that. He worked as a volunteer for around 20 years in total without committing offences.”
The court heard that Allen, who entered the dock with the help of a walking stick and listened to the proceedings through a hearing loop, suffers from diabetes, depression and memory loss.
His ill-health persuaded Judge Cole to reduce his prison sentence to one of 16 months behind bars.
Passing sentence at Amersham Crown Court, Judge Cole told Allen: “Over a three year period you abused your position as county treasurer for the British Legion. You stole some £26,000, both by diverting cheques to yourself and taking cash donated for the Poppy Appeal.
“This is a gross breach of trust.
“You had money problems but no doubt so did many of the people who donated money to the British Legion on the assumption it was going to the British Legion, not to you for your own enrichment.
“Some of the money was spent on holidays for yourself and your wife.
“It is tragic that this behaviour has lost you your good name, accumulated over your lifetime. Your good reputation is now gone.
“These offences, committed over three years and in such a high degree of trust that was broken, necessitate an immediate custodial sentence.
“For each count, concurrently, there will be a sentence of 16 months’ imprisonment.”
An application to confiscate Allen’s ill-gotten gains was made in court. It will be considered at another hearing on January 6 next year.
Speaking outside court after sentencing, Aylesbury Legion member Christopher Mansi, said: “I think it’s a pretty reasonable sentencing.
“He is universally disliked. Only yesterday my partner was in communication with his wife and she’d said to him, ‘Have you signed all the documents in case you get sent down?’
“He said, ‘I’m not going down’ - she said, ‘I hope the b****** goes down’.”
A spokesman for The Royal British Legion said: “We’re saddened that a volunteer in a position of responsibility within the Legion’s membership could betray the organisation’s trust.
“The loss of these vital funds will impact on the Legion’s work with members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.”