One of the charities that has gained the most press support and public backing in recent years has been the Help For Heroes campaign. There has been a large increase in demands to support the troops and with an a major number of wars in recent memory and many current soldiers seeing action, it is understandable that there is a need to look after people who have been injured while fighting for the British Army. There have been some complaints that the Help For Heroes campaign is nothing but a PR campaign to support the many wars and conflicts that the British Army have engaged in to support their Allies but when you see the positive impact it has had on people who need a great deal of support, it is easy to see why so many people back the campaign.
As with any activity that aims to raise funds, there will be an opportunity for fraudsters to make money out of it. The vast majority of people in a community would never think about stealing money from this sort of fundraising activity, or using the organisation as a front to raise funds for yourself, but in the current economic climate, this can’t be said for everyone. There are people who will take any opportunity that comes their way with respect to finances and a man who has taken advantage of the desire to support the Help For Heroes campaign has been jailed.
Liam O’Brien from Chippenham posed as a serving soldier and stated that he was collecting money which would be given to the Help For Heroes campaign. O’Brien was found with over £500 at the point of his arrest back in November of 2014. The crown court in Swindon was told that O’Brien was seen wearing a military uniform even though he had never spent any time in the forces. O’Brien was hailed for 3 and a half years, a sentence which relates to 12 charges that he plead guilty to. These 12 charges included 7 charges of fraud.
One of the biggest issues about someone undertaking fraudulent activity like this is that it will damage perception of the organisation and this was something that the judge presiding over the case, Peter Blair QC, stated in court. Judge Blair believed to be “an extremely heinous act” which posed serious damage to the level of public goodwill that people held towards Help For Heroes. The court was informed that O’Brien submitted an application to collect for the charity back in December 2013. This came shortly after O’Brien had been released from prison where he was serving time due to a number of previous fraudulent crimes he had committed.
The charitable organisation provided authorisation for O’Brien to collect funds in February of 2014 but when he had not provided any funds within a matter of weeks, this authorisation had been withdrawn. The court was informed that O’Brien was spotted outside of Victoria Station in London on the 7th of October. He was dressed in a sergeant’s uniform collecting for the charity while carrying a bucket. After being spotted at Bath Spa Station in the same situation, O’Brien was arrested. Once again he was dressed in the uniform of a sergeant and he had access to fake identity cards.
These cards formed some of the charges against O’Brien, with him facing 7 counts of fraud and 4 counts of possessing articles that would be used for fraud. O’Brien also pleaded guilty to the charge of handling stolen goods. This relates to the fact that he used personal details which had been stolen from a number of guests in a hotel, with O’Brien using these details to purchase services and goods.
Help For Heroes released a statement through Jo Brookes, their Income Protection Officer, who said; “O’Brien pretended to be a serving soldier and deceived the public into thinking they were making donations which would help our wounded. Instead he was cashing in on their goodwill and using the money for his own personal gain. Our anti-fraud measures helped the police catch him quickly and we’re delighted he’s behind bars.”
While this case will be a highly emotive one for many people, there is still a need to review and analyse the fraudulent activity in the most appropriate manner. This is why there is a need to call on specialist lawyers with an understanding of the complexities involved with this style of fraud. Many people would be keen to lock O’Brien up and throw away the key, but even though he has undertaken a crime that many find repulsive, he was still entitled to a fair trial.
Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 9 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn’t sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.