Firefighters charity worker stole more than £18,000 to fund bingo sessions

Natasha Mason
Natasha Mason was handed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months - Solent News & Photo Agency

A charity manager for firefighters stole more than £18,000 she helped raise at car washing events to fund playing bingo.

Natasha Mason turned to gambling as she skimmed money she had raised for The Fire Fighters Charity.

Bingo was “escapism” that offered her a “haven” from her marriage, a court heard.

But the 46-year-old was caught red-handed after discrepancies were noticed between the cash raised and the amount that was banked.

She came clean about stealing at 23 events between April 2018 and March 2020 - totalling £18,677.

After admitting theft by an employee at Salisbury magistrates’ court, Wilts, earlier this year, Mason wept in the city’s crown court as she was handed a suspended sentence.

Joshua Bowker, prosecuting, told the court Mason had worked for the charity since June 2010, and was a regional fundraising team manager in Wiltshire.

“The charity provides support for for those in the fire service from the time they join until beyond retirement,” he said.

“She would attend events at various fire stations. In November 2020, the charity became aware of a discrepancy in what was being raised at events and what was being banked.

“They wrote to the defendant [asking] about where just under £3,700 was.”

Charity manager ‘disgusted’ with herself

Mr Bowker told the court she admitted stealing the money and said how “disgusted” she was with herself for the theft and repaid it immediately.

He added: “The charity remained concerned and invited her to disclose any other incidents.”

However, the court heard she said she had actually over-paid her repayment and the charity gave her back about £700.

But after further investigation in 2021, she was interviewed by police about 64 different charity events, which were mainly car washes.

“At 23 of the events she had stolen money totalling £18,677.82 and admitted further events but couldn’t quantify [the amount],” he added.

In a victim impact statement read to the court, the charity said it had led to its workers being “tarred with the same brush”, concerns about whistleblowing and volunteers feeling their honesty was being ‘questioned’.

The court heard it had also affected the reputation of the charity and could lead to people not wanting to make donations.

The Fire Fighters Charity raises in excess of £8m a year to offer “context” to the figure of her theft, Mason’s lawyer Kane Sharpe said.

He said she was “ashamed” of her “terrible mistake”.

Mason ‘at rock bottom’ in toxic marriage

Mr Sharpe added that she had been in a toxic and abusive 25-year marriage and was at rock bottom mentally and financially at the time of the offending.

“She is sorry to the charity and sorry for what she has done,” he said. “To say this was out of character doesn’t do it justice - this was a complete aberration. She turned to bingo as a haven, as escapism.”

He said Mason, of Seend, Wiltshire, has begun paying back the figure via £100 a month payments.

Addressing Mason, Judge Timothy Mousley KC said: “Stealing from your employer is always regarded by the courts as being a serious crime, particularly as it was not momentary.

“The serious feature of this case is you stole from a charity. You were in a position of trust, this was a breach of trust. Your intention was always that the money would be paid back. The money that you stole was used to pay off debts and household bills. For some reason you inexplicably turned to gambling, albeit at a low level.”

Deeming the chance of her reoffending as being “not a realistic one”, he continued: “I’m satisfied you are someone who can be rehabilitated in the community and you don’t have to go to prison for that.”

Mason was handed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

She must also carry out 15 rehabilitation activity requirement days and mental health treatment.

A compensation order stating she pay back £5,000 was also made, although the court heard she aims to pay back the full amount.

On its website The Fire Fighters Charity says it offers specialist, lifelong support for members of the UK fire services community, empowering individuals to live happier and healthier lives.