Charity scam is foiled by wary residentsBy Caroline Cook
December 19, 2011
Savvy Wokingham folk helped catch out a company director who claimed to be collecting toys and clothes for air ambulance charities but failed to donate a single item.
Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance, which lost out on valued funds because of the scam, is urging people to be vigilant to other scams in the area.
Anthony Joseph Durkin, 47, of Bernwood Road, Bicester, was fined £5,220 plus £500 costs and a £15 victim surcharge at Bracknell Magistrates Court on Friday, December 2, after pleading guilty to nine offences under consumer protection laws.
Durkin was director of Air Ambulance Service (Trading Co) Ltd which made several claims that it was collecting for air ambulance charities.
The company distributed leaflets around Wokingham which contained images of a helicopter similar to ones used by legitimate charities.
It indicated the majority of the proceeds from the sale of toys and clothes which were collected would be donated to air ambulance charities and the claims were also repeated on a website.
But a Trading Standards investigation was launched after people from Crowthorne and Wokingham raised concerns about the legitimacy of the company.
No relationship was found to exist with the charities and no funds had ever been donated by Durkin.
Patrick Conafray, head of fundraising at Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance, said: “The residents of our three counties, Berks, Oxon and Bucks do an amazing job supporting their air ambulance. The last thing they want to hear is that we are losing much needed income to illegal and un-licensed traders.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank the residents of Wokingham for their persistent diligence is this matter. Please always make sure that you check the validity of the charity by asking for a registered charity number and a telephone number in which you can call for reassurance.”
Air Ambulance Service (Trading Co) Ltd subsequently became St Anthony (Trading Co) Ltd and was wound up on Wednesday, November 2, following an application by the secretary of state for business innovation and skills.
Durkin was prosecuted in his capacity as director of the company at the time of offences.
Sean Murphy, manager at West Berkshire and Wokingham Trading Standards, said the members of the public who reported their concerns were vital in helping trading standards to bring the case to court.
He said: “We do market research which is useful but we rely on the public to come forward if they have got a concern.
“We have got limited numbers of officers and if the public don’t come forward a lot of the time things like this are not going to be picked up.
“It’s really important. If you have got concerns, whatever they are, you need to raise them.”
Mr Murphy said there had been a rise in the number of door-to-door collections in recent years with many legitimate charities and commercial businesses also running collections.
Some companies offer to collect items in return for a donation to charity and Mr Murphy said the vast majority are legitimate but he advised people to read the small print.
He said: “You get bags through the door from commercial companies saying we will give £50 or something per tonne to charities.
“But when someone says £50 per tonne what does that mean?
“From the charities point of view that is £50 more than they would have got but what I would say is people need to read the small print.
“I don’t think people realise how much the items they are putting out is worth. You can get about £1,000 per tonne of rags.”
Anyone with concerns regarding consumer issues should contact Trading Standards (01635) 519930 or email email@example.com