Cancer con thief jailed for 15 months

A fraudster who faked terminal cancer to avoid facing up to thefts which left a charity days from closure has been jailed for 15 months.

Friday, 23rd September 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:04 pm
Fiona Barnes

Five years after her deception began, former Space Centre worker Fiona Barnes appeared emotionless as she was sentenced by Recorder David Potter at Preston Crown Court yesterday.

For more than 20 years, the Space Centre in Preston has been providing vital services for severely disabled people across Lancashire – but Barnes’s crimes nearly brought it to an end.

Recorder Potter, describing her as “a convincing con artist”, said: “Those thefts were committed in a gross breach of the trust that had been placed in you by your employer.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“When it was discovered the money was not there it almost destroyed the charity.

The married mother-of-two also pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice with bogus documents she gave to the court indicating she was unfit to attend court because she was in hospital receiving chemotherapy.

Recorder Potter said: “The manner of the theft was sophisticated.

“The monies that were obtained as a result of fraudulent acts on your part were paid into your account.

“When you were arrested in relation to these matters you were then summonsed to court and your dishonesty is compounded by your then deliberate attempts to pervert the course of public justice.”

The offences span a period between December 2011 and February 2012. Barnes, known as Fiona Raven to her co-workers, obtained employment with the charity in 2010, saying she and her lecturer husband planned to move from Scotland to Lancaster so he could get work at a university.

Prosecuting, Paul Cummings said: “The defendant was employed as a project manager and fundraiser for the organisation which intended to expand its accommodation and move into other premises.

“During the course of her employment she demonstrated a successful ability and became very quickly a trusted employee and raised funds of over £1m, which was used in the stage one phase, enabling the charity to purchase an adjoining building.”

He said in June 2012 her contract came to an end but Barnes agreed to work for a further three months.

In August she told the charity she was taking a holiday, but she never returned and became uncontactable.

Anomalies were then discovered and a police probe was launched.

It emerged within one month of her beginning her employment at Space, she was forging signatures on cheques in her married name and paying cash into her current account.

She had also enlisted a website designer to improve the charity’s website - but paid herself the invoice.

In one case, eight copies of the same invoice for one company were discovered on her computer - but each had been altered.

He also revealed medical professionals had been shown letters they had allegedly written about Barnes’ cancer treatment - and all confirmed they were forged.

It is not the first time she has ripped off a charity.

While working for Social Enterprise Clydebank (SEC), Barnes siphoning off huge sums of cash awarded by the Big Lottery Fund by falsifying invoices and forging various communications. The organisation went into liquidation two years earlier amid claims of mismanagement, with 26 people losing their jobs.

The court heard since her prison release for the offences in Scotland she had worked full time.

Defending, Nicholas PJ Clarke revealed Barnes had suffered abuse and trauma as a child, teenager and in her first marriage, and said they may be reasons for a personality disorder diagnosed in 2014 - but was “no excuse” for the offence committed six years ago. He said: “These two sets of offences were effectively running in parallel. Mrs Barnes had gone through 48 years without troubling the courts or the police. Then in 2009 following her employment with SEC and at Space she has gone on to steal over £50,000.

“The difficulty which you may have is why on earth did she commit these offences? It comes to me to effectively try and give some explanation as to her state of mind in 2009 and 2010. She is not the same person today as she was in 2010, to the extent the time she has spent in custody has done a lot assist her in relation to her own health.”