KIND-HEARTED Sunderland AFC fans were targeted by conmen who claimed to be collecting money to help brave soldiers.
The unscrupulous gang pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from innocent people, from sites including outside the Stadium of Light on match days, rattling collection tins pretending to be working for Help for Heroes.
The fraudsters registered with the forces charity to get paraphernalia to convince the public they were legitimate collectors.
Newcastle Crown Court yesterday heard the bogus collectors were so convincing even police officers parted with their spare change in an effort to help raise cash.
The gang also collected money outside Newcastle United’s St James’s Park and city pubs.
Prosecutors believe the scam made £45,000 between November 2009 and February 2010.
Judge Brian Forster said the fraud was a “scandal and a disgrace,” and jailed four of the five perpetrators.
He told them: “This was a dishonest enterprise to obtain charitable donations for Help for Heroes from members of the public when it is clear to me your only intention was to help yourselves from the donations.
“You shook your collection boxes, you took their money.
“The offending is serious because it was planned, because it betrayed the generous support of the many members of the public who donated.
“They were all thinking they were giving money to help the many heroes of our country who have been wounded in service on behalf of us all.
“The reality of this case is you have stolen the donations made by thousands of members of the public who were willing to help people who need assistance.”
Natalie Hornby, 39, of Railway Cottages, Nunthorpe, was jailed for 30 months.
She was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Jacqueline Newham, 57, of Linden Way, Droylsdon, Manchester, admitted the charge and was jailed for 16 months.
Ellen Grant, 45, of Albert Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, was found guilty by a jury and jailed for 15 months.
Lydia Cummerson, 41, of Falconwood Chase, Boothstown, Salford, was also convicted by a jury and jailed for 12 months.
Robert Hornby admitted a minor part in the fraud and was given a four month sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Bryn Parry, of Help for Heroes, said: “This undermines the thousands of generous and committed fund-raisers across the UK who enabled Help for Heroes to commit £104million to provide practical and direct support to the wounded.”
Judge Forster commended the police who put a stop to the scam, and said he hoped this case would not prevent the public from continuing to donate to good causes.