Cancer charity worker sold Alton Towers tickets meant for sick kids on eBay in 'appalling betrayal'

Heidi Bucknall
-Credit: (Image: Nottinghamshire Police)

A charity worker stole hundreds of Alton Towers and Legoland tickets meant to "bring a little bit of light" to the families of sick children and flogged them on eBay. Admin assistant Heidi Bucknall also arranged for grants to be paid into bogus family accounts, inventing sick and deceased children so she could pocket the cash.

Bucknall also swiped thermometers donated to PASIC (Parents Association for Seriously Ill Children) and sold them online for her own personal gain. In total, the 32-year-old made around £30,000 from her ill-gotten gains between 2015 and 2021.

The charity, based at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, supports children with cancer across the East Midlands. But Bucknall, herself a survivor of childhood cancer, exploited the very charity which had once supported her in the most "appalling" way.

READ MORE: Parents warned about 'dangerous' baby-proofing product and told 'get rid'

Nottingham Crown Court was told that Bucknall began helping out with the charity as a teenager, before she became employed as their part-time administrative assistant in August 2012. NottinghamshireLive reports that her main duties involved booking events and organising parties and entertainment.

Abigail Hill, prosecuting, said: “The defendant had direct dealings with Merlin Magic Wands, which is the charity arm of Merlin Entertainment which runs various theme parks including Alton Towers. Through these dealings, Merlin Magic Wands gifted PASIC a significant number of free passes to their various establishments with a view to these being passed on to suffering families which the charity was supporting."

However in April 2021, the charity's CEO received an email from the charity manager at Merlin Magic Wands to say that a number of their tickets previously been gifted to PASIC were being advertised and sold on eBay. Ms Hill continued: “Further investigation of the eBay account also showed that three thermometers belonging to PASIC, provided by Boots, and intended for suffering families, had also been previously sold via the online auction platform."

The eBay account was indirectly linked to Bucknall, who broke down in tears when questioned by her manager. She admitted it was linked to a PayPal account belonging to one of her relatives, but insisted they had no knowledge of her fraudulent conduct. Bucknall was dismissed from her role that month.

Bucknall, of Tyburn Close, Bestwood, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud by abuse of position and concealing criminal property. She was jailed for two years and four months on July 5.

Sentencing her, Judge Steven Coupland said: “It is difficult to think of a more appalling series of offences. You, out of everyone, well understood the good work the charity that employed you did for people because you were a cancer survivor yourself.

“This was an appalling betrayal of terminally-ill children and you deprived them and their families of a little bit of light. Your theft was from a company but in real terms it was stealing from those who the charity was here to help.”

Following the sentencing, Detective Constable Anna Haynes, who led the investigation for Nottinghamshire Police, said: “The criminal actions of Heidi Bucknall have had a profound impact on a fantastic charity and the lives of those connected to it – including its staff, volunteers and of course the children and families who benefit from its incredible work. Money and tickets that could have helped the families of very sick children was selfishly pocketed by Bucknall and nothing can excuse her actions."

Louise Towse, the charity's CEO, added: “Providing support and comfort to families facing the devastation of childhood cancer has always been, and remains, our priority. We would like to reassure all our supporters, beneficiaries, and colleagues that our charity is in good health and our work continues as normal.

“Since the incident was uncovered in 2021, we have conducted a thorough review of governance and financial controls to ensure such misappropriation cannot be allowed to happen in the future."