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Manager hid missing cash; CHARITY WAS LEFT OUT OF POCKET.

Byline: ROB KENNEDY Court Reporter rob.kennedy@ncjmedia.co.uk @ChronicleCourt

A RAT left a charity which helps people with disabilities and mental health problems thousands of pounds out of pocket by falsifying accounts in a petty cash cover-up.

Christine Furlong had been employed by United Response for up to 19 years and worked her way up the ranks into a senior and trusted position as a team manger at the organisation, which is partly taxpayer funded through Gateshead Council.

A court heard more than PS10,500 went missing but prosecutors have accepted she did not take it herself.

However she did try to hide the missing cash by falsifying accounts with fake receipts.

Now the 48-year-old, of Parklands, Wardley, Gateshead, has been given a suspended prison sentence at Newcastle Crown Court after she admitted false accounting.

Judge Tim Gittins told her: "One of your responsibilities was dealing with petty cash, dealing with handing it out, taking in receipts and logging them and providing monthly returns to head office.

"After an initial period of acting appropriately with those funds, it got beyond you. Whether that was because you had a limited amount of training or because you were not capable, either way it very quickly built up to the position where you became aware funds were being misused.

"Rather than dealing with it appropriately, you sought to cover up the fact and falsified receipts and put your own personal receipts in to cover what was going missing."

The judge said what Furlong was doing "eventually unravelled" and an investigation showed her false accounting had hidden the taking of more than PS10,500.

Judge Gittins told her: "Sums had been covered by false entries when it was obvious money had been inappropriately spent."

Suspicions initially fell on Furlong, who had a second petty cash tin, for taking the money, but a fraud charge was dropped and prosecutors accept she was "covering up non-legitimate use of funds by others" rather than them being taken by her.

The court heard after she was suspended in October 2015, the petty cash used fell from more than PS20,000 a year to around PS6,000 a year.

Judge Gittins said: "Even though it was not for your gain, it was nonetheless serious.

"By seeking to hide it rather than raising the alarm as you should have done and indicating it was beyond your control, it meant the charity was losing out and those assisted by the charity were losing out."

The court heard the charity claimed the loss back on its insurance but had to pay the PS5,000 excess plus approaching PS1,000 of extra work it took to unpick what Furlong had been doing.

Judge Gittins said single parent Furlong, who is in "deep debt", had done a good job before the offending and had been "devoted" to the charity.

He added: "It's clear you have a number of good, positive qualities." But he added: "The harm to the charity cannot be overstated."

The court heard United Response supports children, young people and adults with disabilities and mental health issues.

Furlong became team manager of a Tyneside-based day service, which held petty cash for expenses such as lunches, snacks and taxis.

She was expected to send details of the petty cash expenditure every month to the organisation's head office in London.

Prosecutor Andrew Walker said: "The false accounting reflects the fact she hid and covered up the fact petty cash was being taken and used for purposes other than legitimate expenses. "She falsified petty cash receipts and falsified to head office that the petty cash expenditure was appropriate.

"She dishonestly hid a loss to the charity of PS10,687."

Concerns were raised by a regional finance manager when no details of petty cash were sent for August and September 2015, despite the fact PS6,000 had been taken out of it in that period.

Following an audit, it was discovered that some receipts had been supplied but were for things like taxis for nonsupported activities, or receipts had been doctored and dates altered, while petty cash had apparently been used for petrol and lunches were claimed at inappropriate places and cash advances given to staff.

Furlong later admitted using some of her own receipts from personal outgoings to try to justify excess petty cash outgoings in the hope it would not be discovered.

Furlong was suspended in October 2015 and dismissed a month later.

Within six months of her leaving, the average expenditure on petty cash fell from around PS2,000 a month to PS800 a month.

Furlong pleaded guilty to false accounting between November 2014 and October 2015 and was given eight months suspended for 12 months with a three month curfew and a rehabilitation requirement.

Sue Hirst, defending, said: "She is a lady of previous good character.

Miss Hirst said Furlong had become "overwhelmed", adding: "The criminality is, rather than asking for help she dishonestly covered up those errors."

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Christine Furlong, guilty of false accounting at a charity
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 22, 2018
Words:839
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