Blind Chesterfield fraudster walks free after “wicked” con aginst charity

Christopher Payne arrives at Derby Crown Court
Christopher Payne arrives at Derby Crown Court

A blind conman who defrauded a charity for the blind and visually impaired out of an estimated £7,000 has walked free from court with a suspended prison sentence and a curfew.

Christopher Payne, 57, of Byron Road, Chesterfield, appeared at Derby Crown Court on Friday, November 6, for defrauding The Accessible Friends Network during his time as the charity’s membership administrator and treasurer.

He admitted transferring money from the charity into his own accounts and playing the charity’s website bingo while not paying for a stake but still claiming winnings when his numbers came up.

Newly installed TAFN treasurer John Wells told the Derbyshire Times: “I am disgusted with the sentence and most of the our members feel he has walked away without punishment. We feel he has stuck two fingers up at us.

“Everyone has been stunned by this and it will take a while to build up trust again.”

Prosecuting barrister Mark Watson explained that Payne had been treasurer for about eight years but was voted out in March and he realised he was about to be found out.

Mr Watson said: “He called the charity’s vice chairman Shirley Grant and said he had done a terrible thing and taken money from the charity and had lied to the board stating there had been £16,886 in savings when there was £10,500.

“He had also been playing bingo without paying and that would have generated £2,340 for the charity and he had received winnings of £2,500.”

Payne made a confession to the police and he pleaded guilty to committing fraud between January 1, 2012, and March 12, 2015.

Defence barrister Phillip Plant said: “He accepts what he has done. He has made full admissions.

“He would have carried on if the charity had not changed his position and he has since been frank.

“He was of previous good character but he has thrown that away with his standing in the eyes of the community and his friends. He is anxious to rectify the position he is in and repay what’s owed.

“There is genuine remorse and he understands the impact on the charity he has let down.”

Mr Plant added that father-of-three Payne had been made redundant from his job with the HSBC and was on benefits but was struggling with finances.

Recorder Justin Wigoder told Payne: “You know very well how wicked this was. This was a charity for the visually impaired and blind and you are in that condition yourself.

“Knowing you were about to be found out you came clean.

“There is no doubt the right sentence is prison but I look at your position and that would be impossible. But I impose a curfew which effectively will be imprisonment at home.”

Recorder Wigoder sentenced Payne to 12 months of custody suspended for two years and imposed a six-month, 7pm to 7am curfew with supervision.

The Accessible Friends Network is a website charity that provides support, education and social events.

New treasurer Mr Wells added: “A lot of our members do not go out so talking computers and Braille computers are a lifeline. Many members are not working and we pay to upgrade their computers and we help less fortunate members replace them and the bingo helped with this but because of what’s happened this has had to be suspended.”

The charity now runs a daily record of finances for the chairman and vice chairman to access, holds monthly meeting updates and is planning audits.