Spared jail: Father-of-15 who ran bogus March charity shop and pocketed NSPCC donations

A FRAUDSTER who ran a bogus charity shop in March and forged a character reference from a police chief constable has been spared jail.

Father-of-15 John Whitcombe was due to stand trial for eight counts of fraud and attempted fraud at Cambridge Crown Court on Monday, but the 77-year-old changed his plea to guilty at the last minute.

He admitted three charges of dishonestly making a false representation – a plea which was accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Whitcombe ran two shops in March between 2008 and 2009 - claiming they were for the benefit of the NSPCC.

But the pensioner pocketed all the donations and even told the properties’ landlady he was a former sheriff in an effort to get a reduction in the rent.

He left the shops in December 2009 after Fenland District Council began chasing him for unpaid rates.

A month later, officers working on a separate investigation discovered a large amount of paperwork relating to different people, property and banks at Whitcombe’s flat.

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A faked letter was also found, purporting to be from former Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Julie Spence thanking him for his work in the community.

Whitcombe, of Lyons Court, Chatteris, was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for a year. He was also made the subject of a condition of residence.

The court had heard he was suffering from poor health.

Gwen Pearson, the NSPCC’s Head of Fundraising for the East of England, said: “Anyone posing as an NSPCC volunteer and trying to cheat our supporters in to giving them money is committing outright fraud, and this activity can do real harm to the reputation of our charity.

“Thankfully this type of fraud is very rare and we applaud the police for their swift action in this case.”

Detective Constable Mark Yendley said: “Whitcombe collected donations at the two shops in March claiming he would give the money to charity but instead pocketed the cash.

“He lied so he could benefit from reduced business rates then, when he failed to pay those rates, produced a fake character reference from the chief constable in a bid to fob off the council debt collectors.

“Whitcombe deceived a number of people in the community with a string of lies and we’re pleased he has now been brought to justice.”