A WOMAN who embezzled nearly £15,000 from a Bradford junior football club would have been jailed had her actions led to its teams going under, a judge said yesterday.
The Article from Rob Lowson via Bradford Telegraph and Argus reports that Jemma Blackburn, 35, was acting as treasurer for Westwood Juniors FC when she stole the money between April 2012 and March last year.
The theft came to light after Blackburn’s landlord, who was chasing up her rent arrears, gave the club letters from the bank stating nothing was left in its account.
Blackburn, of Ascot Parade, Horton Bank, had pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud ahead of yesterday’s hearing.
Prosecutor John Bull said that when Blackburn had been appointed club treasurer around £15,000 was being held in an HSBC account to accrue interest.
When the club tried to transfer the account to Yorkshire Bank in June 2015, five attempts were made to do so but all the cheques were not honoured due to insufficient funds.
In January last year, Blackburn’s landlord contacted club chairman and secretary Julie Wilkinson to pass on letters HSBC had sent regarding the account, which was at that point £76 overdrawn. The club stated that in the period between 2012 and 2016, Blackburn had taken £14,517.
In a victim impact statement, Mrs Wilkinson said that when Blackburn’s crimes came to light, it left her “questioning her faith in human nature.”
She said: “I felt ridiculed and humiliated that my trust had been thrown back in my face by someone I considered a friend. She has destroyed so much we built up in the club with her selfish actions. There are no words to portray her betrayal.”
Nigel Jamieson, for Blackburn, said his client had already paid a “significant” price for her fraud, losing her family and job.
He said the money had been stolen during a six to nine-month period in 2012 when her family’s finances were in “disarray”, stating her intention had been to pay it back before things “got out of hand.”
The court heard that the first withdrawal of around £3,000 had been used to buy a new car, with other payments made to cover household debts and bills.
Mr Jamieson said Blackburn was now under the supervision of a doctor, and had been “vilified, abused, and threatened” because of her actions.
When Judge Jonathan Durham Hall asked whether she was “aware of the anger towards her”, Mr Jamieson said: “She has been left in no doubt.”
Judge Durham Hall set a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing for August, saying he wanted to get “as much money back as possible” for the club.
He told Blackburn: “The public interest in this case is overwhelming, and the anger in your community is palpable.
“You have lost your job and family. If I had been told the club had had to close, you would have gone to prison, but they are hanging on. If I sent you to prison, the authorities would release you due to your medical condition.”
Blackburn was given an eight-month sentence, suspended for a year, with 200 hours of unpaid work, a six-month curfew, and a 15-day rehabilitation activity requirement.
Judge Durham Hall told her: “I will try to make you pay back the money at some stage. You are very fortunate that the membership of this club is so strong it has survived. If it had not, heaven help you.”
After Blackburn pleaded guilty last month, members of the club, which has 12 teams and 136 registered players, said it had been left at “rock-bottom” but had pulled together to rebuild.
Speaking after yesterday’s hearing, one club official said they felt “let down” by Blackburn’s sentence.
They said: “If we had just walked away, the club would have gone bust and she would have gone to prison.
“But, we saved it for the kids, they just want to come and play football and have fun.”
Article from Rob Lowson via Bradford Telegraph and Argus, Follow Rob on Twitter RobL_TandA Full link (and picture) here http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/crime/15187463.Junior_football_club_treasurer_plundered___15_000_from_its_accounts__including_children_s_match_subs/