Romford fraudster who stole £70k with 'fundraiser' will only pay back £1

Xahra Saleem arrived at Bristol Crown Court where she is accused of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.
Xahra Saleem arrived at Bristol Crown Court where she is accused of two counts of fraud by abuse of position. -Credit:PAUL GILLIS / Reach PLC

An Essex fraudster who organised protests that toppled a statue stole £70k - but has been ordered to pay back just £1. Xahra Saleem, 23, from Romford, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after admitting fraud relating to a fundraiser linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The fundraiser was intended to raise cash for Changing Your Mindset, which was a Bristol St Pauls-based youth group, but it was never received. Bristol Crown Court heard previously that Saleem received an initial payment of £30,653. This came after a total of 588 individual donations had been made from around the world to the GoFundMe page, totalling £32,344.

She went on to spend a total of £44,815 on what were described as "lifestyle" expenses - including a whopping £5,800 on Ubers. But in a proceeds of crime act hearing, a court heard on Friday (April 5) that she was now penniless - and despite benefiting by an estimated £70k - she would only have to pay back a nominal £1.

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Speaking after the hearing, DC Anthony Davis, officer in the case, said: “Xahra Saleem admitted to defrauding a charity of a significant sum of money and received a custodial sentence for it last year. She made the conscious decision to take the money for herself, when it should have gone to young people in east Bristol.

“Blameless individuals who supported the charity were left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of this serious fraud. They were put in an incredibly difficult position of trying to answer questions about Saleem’s offending when they had done nothing wrong and were left devastated by what occurred.

“In total it has been calculated Saleem benefitted to the value of approximately £70,000. Nobody should profit from criminality and that’s why we have taken proactive action under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Saleem was instructed at Bristol Crown Court today (Friday 5 April) to pay a nominal amount following due consideration of her available assets.

"Should she obtain assets in the future, we would have the opportunity to seek a re-confiscation order through the courts via Section 22 of the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

Avon and Somerset Police investigated a GoFundMe page called 'BristBLM' initially set up for the demonstration on June 7 2020 after the donation money disappeared. Prosecuting, during the case, Alistair Haggerty told the court it was not clear whether she intended to spend the money raised, or "succumbed to temptation,"

He added: "These were not big purchases. There was some money spent on shopping and bills, a new iPhone and iMac, but it was mainly on hair, beauty, clothes, Amazon purchases, taxis and takeaways.

Saleem initially entered not guilty pleas to two charges of fraud. The second charge related to a separate online fundraising page set up in the days following the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in June 2020, called 'Bristol Protesters Legal Fees'.

This was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service. But sentencing her judge Michael Longman told her she had "abused her position" as director of Changing Your Mindset. He told her: "As an organiser of the Black Lives Matter march in Bristol, you gave yourself a high public profile which you used to raise money to help young people in St Pauls - an immensely worthwhile cause.

"That money you then used for your benefit not theirs - funding a lifestyle which you could not normally afford." He said the donations massively exceeded expectations and the defendant "took advantage" of the situation.

He added: "I take into account the funds raised plainly exceeded all expectations to a substantial degree, and attempts were made to set up a business account. I accept that you did not set out to defraud initially, but took advantage."

Judge Longman said the fraud was conducted over an "extended period of time" and included a large amount of victims. "There was abuse of trust," he added. But he said he reduced the length of sentence that he would have given as there was mitigation - including her age and immaturity at the time. He added: "There is remorse. I have no doubt you have remorse now looking back at that period of time."

In a statement released after the hearing, Jay Daley and Deneisha Royal from the youth group Changing Your Mindset said they continued to feel let down. They said: "It doesn't feel that justice has been fully served as we are unlikely to get back the money from her. It feels like we are being punished. It saddens me that a member of our community could do this to us because they knew and understood the goal we set out to achieve in order to positively change our community.

"For me the group was a safe place. A refuge that I could relax without concern for my safety. For some members it was an opportunity to cook a meal, collect donations and receive support for mental health as well as learn about new things such as employment opportunities.

"If we were to get the money back we would go on the trip and members of the group would reestablish the group and make changes to the community and use time on the trip to plan for this."

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