A TRUSTED treasurer stole almost £23,000 from the Workington club she was meant to help, using some of the cash to fund gambling and online shopping.

Over three-years, 39-year-old Charlotte Phillips routinely helped herself to money that belonged to Workington Bridge Club, typically stealing £125 per week, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

She pleaded guilty to a fraud by abuse of position.

The defendant became treasurer of the club in 2018, prosecutor Emily Land told the court. After getting the job, Phillips kept coming up with excuses for not providing audited accounts, said the prosecutor.

When the matter was raised at a committee meeting, it was confirmed that Phillips had not filed accounts for three years.

“During the meeting, the defendant did present a set of accounts but there were spelling mistakes and it was poorly presented,” said Miss Land. Nor were the accounts signed off by an accountant. Following this, Phillips went to the club’s director.

“She said she hadn’t been honest,” continued Miss Land.

Phillips admitted stealing around £5,000 but promised to repay that money but the following day she visited the director again and confessed that the amount she had stolen from the club was closer to £20,000.

The actual amount she stole was £22,781.

She stole the money by persuading members to sign blank cheques, which she would then pay into her own bank account. When interviewed by the police, she made fully admissions.

In an impact statement, Bruce Denwood, from the club, said many of the bridge club’s members were elderly people who struggled with their mobility.

In particular, the steps that led to the club's entrance were a challenge for some members and there had been plans to improve access. “That has had to be put on hold,” he said.

Even now, at that point 17 months after the offending came to light, the impact of the fraud was still being felt. The defendant’s actions had caused stress and anxiety and there had been bills which were not paid.

There had been an impact on the club’s standing.

Marion Weir, defending, said Phillips, of Elterwater Avenue, Workington, had expressed “genuine and extreme remorse.”

The defendant felt deeply ashamed of what she had done. The barrister said Phillips initially stole to buy items for a new-born baby and the defendant's intention had been to repay the money she took.

“That spiralled out of control, and she became entrenched in this behaviour, from which she could see no way out,” said Miss Weir.

The barrister said Phillips had not enjoyed a lavish lifestyle but there was an issue with gambling and also with online shopping.  

She needed the money she stole to achieve that 'high'. But Philips had been to her GP and been referred for talking therapy. Miss Weir added: “She expresses her apology to the Bridge Club.

Her parents have had to bail her financially in relation to this.

“She knows she has let a number of people down. There’s a long road ahead to repair all of that.”

Judge Nicholas Barker said the Workington Bridge Club has no doubt been something of a lifeline to its members, many of them elderly, and the money it earned was meant to ensure that the club ran smoothly.

Though she may have intended to repay the cash, she was taking in the region of £7,000 a year for three years. “That’s a significant amount of money,” said the judge.

Judge Barker noted the defendant’s “obsessive” approach to online shopping as well as her gambling.

The judge said: “That is where this money went – the hard-earned money of members of Workington Bridge Club. You were able to thieve this money because you held a position of trust, the treasurer.

"You abused that trust and that is what makes this offending so serious...

"The people abused were people you knew, people who relied on you; people who no doubt on a weekly basis you would see, [you] knowing all the while you were stealing from them.

"That was a decision to steal again, and again and again, so much that it would suggest you ceased to be aware of the criminality of what you were doing, so entrenched had it become."

But Judge Barker accepted that Phillips was suitable for rehabilitation.

He imposed a 16-month jail term suspended for two years. The sentence includes a 12-week 6pm to 6am curfew. But with there being no prospect that the money stolen could be repaid, the just did not impose compensation.

But he told Phillips: “You are now a convicted fraudster.”