A woman has walked free from court after she received a suspended sentence for stealing nearly £15,000 from charities.
Gillian Fowler, 71, of Tallis Way, Borehamwood, was today given 21 months in jail suspended for 21 months, when she appeared at St Albans Crown Court.
Fowler pleaded guilty to stealing £3,824 from The Sunday Club in Borehamwood between February 2009 and April 2013, while she was treasurer.
She also took responsibility for stealing £10,659 from the Royal British Legion in Borehamwood, where she was also treasurer.
Fowler had helped found the Sunday Club, which raises money for Peace Hospice Care, a charity that cares for the terminally ill, in 1999.
Prosecution barrister Ian McLoughlin described how on February 10, 2009 she forged the signature of the club’s co-founder Tom Connaughton in order to cash a cheque worth £1,600 at the HSBC bank.
She proceeded to take small amounts of money from the account at regular intervals through cashing forged cheques, and was only stopped when Mr Connaughton discovered there was £17.91 in the charity's account instead of the £2,500 he was expecting.
Fowler, who was treasurer of the Royal British Legion in Shenley Road for three years, stole half the club’s £6,600 membership fees for 2012-13, walking away with £3,279, three quarters of which was cash.
She also forged the signature of the British Legion’s chairman David Lowther to cash eight cheques for a total of £7,380 between April and August last year.
The theft was discovered after Mr Lowther noticed the club’s low bank balance and queried Fowler about it. She said she would “look into it”, but he went to the bank in August and discovered the thefts.
Mr McLaughlan said Fowler’s position had involved a “high degree of trust” which she had exploited, and therefore she should receive between 12 months and three years in jail.
Speaking in mitigation, defence barrister Lee Halliday-Davis, said the mother of one, who had a previous conviction dating from 1980, had tried to create a good name for herself, despite battling with alcoholism and an abusive husband.
Fowler, who retired in 2008 from jobs in PR, was in financial difficulty after surviving on three small pensions amounting to around £935 per month, and owed money to pay day lender Wonga.
Miss Halliday-Davis described Fowler’s poor mental health, adding she was being treated for depression, anxiety and possible Parkinsons and had attempted suicide when she was arrested in October last year.
She also said Fowler had had no recollection of the offences but had nonetheless pleaded guilty.
She added: “In October Ms Fowler made a serious suicide attempt. She is a Roman Catholic and she said the thought of taking her own life made her sick, which shows how low she was.
“She felt sorry, ashamed and was finding life difficult because her good name has been exposed as a sham.
“She asked to apologise to the Royal British Legion and the Sunday Club. She is sorry and knows the seriousness of the offence.
“In view of the remorse she has shown I ask for her sentence to be suspended.”
In pronouncing his sentence, Judge Warner said Fowler’s crimes were “thoroughly mean” as she had carried out a “significant breach of trust” over a long time.
He told Fowler: “Given your previous sentence, there is clearly a dishonest streak in your character which has re-emerged.
“These are extremely serious offences and there is no doubt in my mind that in fact you deserve imprisonment.
“There are mitigating features, not for your offences, but your health and your age as well as the difficult financial circumstances you find yourself in. For these reasons alone it seems to me a suspended sentence is appropriate.
“If you commit a crime within 21 months you will go to prison, where you deserve to go for what you have done.”