Police warning over '˜misleading' Preston charity collectors

Police are warning shoppers to avoid street collectors who are not passing on all of the donations to charity.

Friday, 26th February 2016, 8:05 am
Updated Friday, 26th February 2016, 9:10 am

Concerns have been raised about groups claiming to support veterans’ organisations in Preston, by selling wristbands.

Police said no crime has been committed by those collecting for ‘Heroes and the Fallen’, but described it as a “moral issue”.

Visitors to the city centre have been approached by Mark Wallace and his team selling wristbands, and officials say cash collected is not all being given to veterans’ charity Blesma, as people are being led to believe. But Mr Wallace said today he was not misleading anyone, and simply “didn’t do my homework”.

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PC Stuart Rutlidge, of Preston police, said: “Essentially, what they are doing is asking for donations for a product which they then get off members of the public, stating a portion will go to the charity.

“That is not illegal – there’s no hard and fast rules on how much money you need to give to the charities.

“So as long as you’re doing something, you’re not breaking the law, which is the dilemma we have. The guy in charge states he’s applying for charitable status with a view to setting up as a charity. He was asking for donations and saying they had made a donation to Blesma, which they had done on one occasion, as a one-off of £500 before Christmas.”

But PC Rutlidge said there was an “awful lot of money not going to charity”, and added Mr Wallace had been spoken to by police. He said: “What he’s doing, he’s not doing with the blessing of Blesma.”

PC Rutlidge said the collections had been reported to Trading Standards.

When contacted by the Evening Post, Mark Wallace said he had not been dishonest but “didn’t do (his) homework”. He said: “I spoke to a policeman and there was somebody out selling my wristbands and it since stopped.”

He said he had “ceased all activity” since he spoke to police and said everything was “up in the air” with Blesma.

Mr Wallace said: “I’m trying to apply for charitable status and I didn’t know anything about it.

“Police said ‘you need to stop your activities until you know what’s going on with Trading Standards and Blesma and the Charity Commission’. I’m still waiting for clarification, I don’t know the full ins and outs of how to become a charity.

“I started as a fundraising organisation. It wasn’t dishonest, basically I didn’t do my homework enough.

“I was selling the wristbands which say ‘Heroes and the fallen’, and my aim is to become a legitimate charity.”

Mr Wallace added: “I’ve ceased my activities until I get more clarification from the Charities Commission.” Ian Waller, of Blesma, said: “We are not happy to receive funds raised through dubious means. To do it in the name of Blesma is wrong because he’s not doing it on our behalf; we’ve never asked Mr Wallace to raise funds for us.”

Paul Noone, head of Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service, added: “We would advise anyone wishing to donate that one of the registered charities collecting for our armed forces may provide more transparency about how your money is spent, than some of the unregistered collectors currently operating throughout Lancashire.”

Preston Council added that it had no record of a licence being issued for Heroes of the Fallen to carry out collections in the city.