The High Court in London has closed down three companies and launched a further investigation into staff for their involvement in a charity collection scam which claimed to raise money for local air ambulances.
The Air Ambulance Support Community Interest Company, St Anthony Trading Co (formerly Air Ambulance Service Trading Co Ltd), and St Anthony Repatriation (formerly Air Ambulance Service), were closed on 2 November after targeting residents in the South Midlands in ‘charity bag’ collections claiming to raise funds for local air ambulances. Over £1m was extorted in the scam.
A spokesman for the Insolvency Service, which undertook the investigation, advised it had received several complaints from members of the public who had queried the collections directly with the organisations, only to receive “unsatisfactory responses”. The members of the public were misled, said the spokesman, after the companies “hinted at being authorised by the Midlands Air Ambulance”.
The collection bags used in the scam contained leaflets bearing similarities to the logos of official air ambulance charities, in particular that of Midlands Air Ambulance. The Insolvency Service contacted the air ambulance service to verify its authorisation and was advised that the air ambulance had “no idea” that its service was being misrepresented by the companies in a bid to extort funds, the spokesman said.
No evidence of donations made to charities
The investigation found no evidence that donations were made to any air ambulance charity and due to the failure of all three companies to maintain adequate accounting records, the whereabouts of the proceeds generated are unclear.
The court also found the companies to be in breach of the House to House Collections Act 1939 which requires any door-to-door charity collector to obtain a licence.
The Insolvency Service now has up to two years to investigate the companies’ directors and hold them to account either through disqualification or the more serious charge of fraud, the spokesman said, adding it was “too early to tell” whether this would be the case.
Anthony Joseph Durkin, who was director of both St Anthony companies, and Tomas Mickauskas, a former director of Air Ambulance who worked as a leaflet distributor for the two St Anthony companies, were named by the Insolvency Service for investigation.
Commenting on the case, investigation supervisor David Hill said: “In winding up these companies, the court is sending a clear message that schemes which set out to deliberately mislead the public in this manner are not acceptable and will be closed when we become aware of them.”
The extent of bogus collections was recently highlighted at the Clothing Collections Symposium in September, where National Fraud Investigations Bureau DI Amanda Lowe said the Bureau's intelligence on bogus collections was "just the tip of the iceberg".
Minister for civil society Nick Hurd, who was a keynote speaker at the event, advised that the review of the Charities Act would be an opportunity to relook at licensing and toughen up sanctions for unlicensed collections.