THE mum of a two-year-old tot who needs £60,000 towards a life-changing operation has hit out at bogus charity collectors who appealed for donations in his name.
Triplet Derek Russell, from Washington, was born prematurely and suffers from cerebral palsy.
His family are hoping to raise enough cash to send him to America for a pioneering operation, which will help him walk.
But charity conmen have dealt those hopes a massive blow by claiming to be collecting cash in his name.
A man was spotted in The Galleries shopping centre in Washington, with a bucket which had a picture of Derek on, saying he was collecting money for him.
A Washington woman also phoned police after a man knocked on her door claiming to be fund-raising for the tot.
Police are now hunting the charity rats and are appealing for information.
Mum Michelle, 34, today said: “I felt sick when I found out. It’s just the lowest of the low.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think something like this would happen to me.”
More than £3,000 has been raised since the Echo highlighted Derek’s plight last month.
His family want to send him to St Louis Hospital in Missouri, for a procedure called selective dorsal rhizotomy to help improve his posture and balance, allowing him to lead a more normal life.
Now, Michelle, of Barmston, fears the conmen will scupper Derek’s appeal.
“It’s terrible, but I just want the person who has done this to be caught,” she said.
“This is not the kind of publicity we want, and we are worried that it will have a negative effect on Derek’s appeal.
“It is messing everything up for us when all we are trying to do is get money for our bairn.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: “At 4.35pm on Tuesday, November 12, police received a report of concern over a charity collector in the Galleries Shopping Centre in Washington.
“A further report was received on Tuesday, November 19.
“Officers are carrying out inquiries into the concerns to establish if any criminal offences have been committed.”
Pc Gary Fee, neighbourhood beat manager for the Galleries, said: “The Galleries Shopping Centre has very strict regulations for charity collections and anyone wanting to carry out a collection must contact the centre beforehand to advise them of this.
“Anyone collecting without prior authorisation from the centre is quickly identified by security staff and spoken, if necessary staff will contact police.”
To donate toward’s Derek’s appeal, go to www.justgiving.com/Michelle-Russell8.