The founder and former director of Little Heroes Cancer Trust has been sentenced to 20 months in prison, after being found guilty of stealing £87,000 from the charity.
Colin Nesbitt was found guilty in March, and was sentenced last week at Bradford Crown Court.
Nesbitt was found to have stolen £87,000 from the charity, and had transferred a further £181,000 out of the charity and into his own bank account in 2014 and 2015.
Little Heroes Cancer Trust was removed from the charity register in 2018. Some of the money has been recovered and will hopefully still go to help children with cancer, the Charity Commission said.
Concerns since 2015
Little Heroes Cancer Trust was established to support children suffering with cancer and their families, by producing books for children in hospitals and donating toys to cancer hospitals.
Information on the Commission website shows that the charity’s annual income fluctuated from over £150,000 in 2012 to barely £50,000 twelve months later.
The charity regulator said in a statement that it had first identified and reported concerns about finances at Little Heroes Cancer Trust in 2015.
Those concerns led to Nesbitt’s arrest.
Nesbitt ‘betrayed’ his charity
During sentencing, judge Gibson said that Nesbitt had “betrayed the public and the public confidence in this charity and the charity sector”.
He added: “Money that could have gone for the alleviation of the plight of very sick children instead was spent for your own purposes.”
Some of the stolen funds were recovered by police, and a separate hearing in December will decide how that money will use used.
Nesbitt and his charity were featured on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire in 2012, when Little Heroes Cancer Trust received a donation of £100,000.
Charity Commission: Recovered funds ‘should go’ to the cause
Some of the funds were recovered by the police. A separate proceeds of crime hearing, to determine what should happen to these funds, is scheduled for December.
Tim Hopkins, the assistant director for investigations and inquiries at the Charity Commission, said: “The very serious criminal actions of Mr Nesbitt had devastating consequences, damaging the charity, its good work and name, as well as impacting significantly on the lives of those connected to it – including its former staff, volunteers and of course the children and their families who once benefited from its services.
“The money the public generously donated to Little Heroes Cancer Trust was intended to make a crucial difference to children and their families, and we understand why those who supported this charity will also feel let down by his actions.
“Through our work the Commission was able to help expose his criminal actions and I’m glad that some of the funds were recovered, which should go back to the causes they were intended for.”
Police: custodial sentence reflects the serious nature of this abuse of position
West Yorkshire Police thanked the charity's former staff who had helped with the investigation.
Detective constable Simon Turton, from West Yorkshire Police, who led on the investigation, said: “We are pleased to see that Nesbitt has been convicted of these offences and that his custodial sentence reflects the serious nature of this abuse of position which diverted large amount of cash from some of the most vulnerable in our society.
“I would like to thank the former members of staff at Little Heroes Cancer Trust for their actions in exposing Mr Nesbitt’s fraudulent behaviour and for their courage in coming forwards and working with the police during this lengthy investigation.
“It should be noted that many people who were formerly connected with Little Heroes worked hard towards the charity's aims and it is testament to those people that despite Mr Nesbitt’s actions numerous children and their families did benefit from the charity.
“We would like to reassure the public that the vast majority of charities operate in a professional and ethical manner; but when information is received that this is not the case then West Yorkshire Police and the Charity Commission will fully investigate such allegations and bring those responsible to justice.”