FENLAND: Hospital charity's treasurer stole more than £400,000 over five-year period

PUBLISHED: 13:50 18 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:06 02 June 2010

CAPTION; Photos of Martin Whatling from Gedney Dyke, arriving at King's Lynn Magistrates accused of stealing money from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital League of Friends.
PHOTO; Matthew Usher
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CAPTION; Photos of Martin Whatling from Gedney Dyke, arriving at King's Lynn Magistrates accused of stealing money from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital League of Friends. PHOTO; Matthew Usher COPY; LYNN OFFICE FOR; EDP NEWS COPYRIGHT; EDP pics © 2008 TEL; (01603) 772434

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THE trusted treasurer of a leading charity systematically stole more than £400,000 over a period of five years - amounting to nearly a quarter of the organisation s lifetime income.

Martin Whatling, 55, pleaded guilty at Norwich Crown Court yesterday to o

THE trusted treasurer of a leading charity systematically stole more than £400,000 over a period of five years - amounting to nearly a quarter of the organisation's lifetime income.

Martin Whatling, 55, pleaded guilty at Norwich Crown Court yesterday to one charge of theft totalling £406,260 and one charge of furnishing false information to the League of Friends of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

He worked for the charity, which has raised £2million to buy hospital equipment since it was formed in 1953, for 22 years. The board of voluntary directors was said to have felt the loss personally.

James Morgan, solicitor for the charity, said after the case was adjourned for reports that the thefts had "effectively paralysed the League of Friends for the best part of two years" while investigations were carried out.

The court heard Whatling, of Main Street, Gedney Dyke, near Long Sutton, first stole from the charity in January 2002.

He continued taking various amounts of money and falsifying accounts until March 2007 when the charity's board of voluntary directors started to get suspicious.

Mr Morgan said an extraordinary meeting of the League of Friends was then called in April 2007 during which Whatling did not admit any wrongdoing.

Andrew Baxter, chief crown prosecutor for Norfolk, told the said that Whatling started to get loans out when suspicions were first raised about the league's finances in 2007 and from them paid back more than £200,000 of the money.

But £190,000 is still outstanding which he could now face having to pay back under a court confiscation order.

Mr Morgan said civil action would be considered for any amount that remained owed after the criminal case was completed.

He said it was difficult to tell if donations had also gone down after the case was brought to the public eye because the economic downturn had affected all charities but "it can't have done any good".

However, he moved to reassure donors that their money was now safe and that lessons had been learnt during the process.

Whatling is due back in court on July 15. The defence will then put their case on August 12 when sentencing will also take place. A confiscation hearing has been scheduled for October 1.

Mr Morgan said: "The trustees of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital of Friends are both pleased and relieved that Martin Whatling has now finally pleaded guilty.

"They are hopeful that this indicates a degree of contrition on his part.

"Once the criminal process has fully run its course, including the confiscation hearings, the charity will be able to review any other civil options it has with regard to the missing money.

"The charity is very grateful to the Norfolk police economic crime unit and the Crown Prosecution Service for keeping it well informed throughout.

"The charity has learnt some important lessons on financial governance so donors in the future will be able to give again to this very important cause."

The league runs a shop in the foyer of the hospital, along with fundraising activities ranging from book sales to bazaars. The annual hospital fete was once one of its major moneyspinners but was abandoned last year because of falling attendances.

In 2005-06 - its record spending year - a trustees' report said it had spent £151,000 on everything from a ventilator for the critical care department, to £256 on Christmas presents for patients.


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