Colin Nesbitt is alleged by prosecutor James Lake to have used the Bradford-based charity’s money as his own, setting up a “secret bank account” with more than £180,000 in it, emptying money bags and using trustees as puppets.
Nesbitt, 58 of Kent Road, Bingley, denies five charges of fraud by abuse of position, three counts of supplying false and misleading information to The Charity Commission by massively under declaring the charity’s revenue, and one charge of stealing £7,000 from the Little Heroes Cancer Trust.
Mr Lake told the jury that Nesbitt founded the charity in 2008 after his grandson was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer the previous year.
Its aim was to raise money to assist young children with cancer and their families with information, support and events such as hospital “toy drops.”
Mr Lake said Little Heroes raised money with charity auctions, gala days and donations. But 90 per cent of its funding came from “firewalks,” often held at pubs, in which people were sponsored to walk over hot coals.
In 2014, Nesbitt incorporated an event management company called Unite and Ignite to run alongside the charity. It took a flat fee of £1,000 to run each event. Any profit made by Unite and Ignite over the year would be donated to either Little Heroes or other charitable causes.
Mr Lake said that at its peak, the combined organisations employed 12 to 15 members of staff, with Nesbitt as director.
The jury heard that the key issue in the case was that Nesbitt was the only person with full access to the charity’s bank accounts. He completed the annual reports and made the strategic operational decisions.
He did not draw a wage despite being a parent on benefits, Mr Lake said.
The jury heard that trial witness Jill Kemp became involved with Little Heroes in May 2009. She held a fundraising event in Bradford and joined the committee before becoming concerned about Nesbitt’s management of the charity.
At a fundraising event at Leeds General Infirmary he was giving out £20 notes to sick children to buy DVDs, it was alleged.
Then, in 2010, Mrs Kemp attended a fundraising event at the Cedar Court Hotel in Bradford where money was being made from sports memorabilia. She thought that more than the £1,700 declared had been raised. She later resigned and reported Little Heroes to The Charity Commission.
Patrick Hawkes, who drove a van for the charity, became aware in 2014 that he was a registered director and trustee, although he knew nothing about the appointments, it is alleged.
Mr Hawkes spoke of Nesbitt having large amounts of cash in his wallet and always being generous with his money.
It is alleged that two other men were given unsecured loans totalling £21,000 from the charity.
“When people donate money to a children’s charity, they do not expect it to be given as an interest free loan to employees,” Mr Lake said.
He told the jury that £20,000 of Little Heroes’ money was spent on a caravan in Newquay, with £5,000 for plastic decking.
It was to provide holidays for sick children but Nesbitt bought it in his own name and used it himself, it is alleged.
Mr Lake said that trustees were “just puppets” so that Nesbitt could have autonomy of handling the money.
On May 21, 2015, The Charity Commission attended a meeting at Little Heroes to discuss allegations that Nesbitt had provided it with false information.
He was given until December to work through the issues but by then a criminal investigation had started.
Bank statements were examined by the charity’s operations manager, Annabelle Wilson, and Richard Dunbar was appointed as an independent trustee.
On May 22, 2015, the day after the visit by The Charity Commission, Nesbitt withdrew £7,000 from the Little Heroes bank account, despite being told to stop making withdrawals, Mr Lake said.
Mrs Wilkinson then found Nesbitt’s behaviour to be “erratic,” the jury was told.
“Things were plainly unravelling,” Mr Lake said.
In October 2015, Nesbitt walked out of a meeting and Mrs Wilkinson froze the Little Heroes Yorkshire Bank account.
The jury heard that files went missing from the offices of Nesbitt and Mrs Wilkinson and she found empty money bags and documents relating to holidays taken by Nesbitt.
A police search of the Mitsubishi vehicle owned by the charity, and parked on the roadside, uncovered £12,496. And 850 Euros and more than £200 were found at Nesbitt’s home.
Nesbitt, who was arrested in October 2015, denied benefitting in any way from the Little Heroes Cancer Trust.
He told the police that financial management was not one of his strengths and his accountancy was “atrocious.”
He denied having a secret bank account or tearing open money bags to remove the contents.
In his opening address to the jury, Nesbitt’s barrister, Matthew Donkin, told the panel not to form a judgement from distaste or prejudice because the allegations were “particularly unattractive.”
Mr Donkin said Nesbitt never sought to look after himself at the expense of the charity.
“No funds from the charity were ever set aside by Mr Nesbitt for his own gain,” the jury heard.
Mr Donkin continued: “The key issue in this case is whether the prosecution can prove that he (Nesbitt) ran that charity dishonestly.”
The trial continues.