Nelson Children in Need grants adviser conned fundraisers

Lancashire Telegraph: FRAUD Mohammed Sarfraz FRAUD Mohammed Sarfraz

A GRANTS expert has admitted conning fundraisers from BBC’s Children in Need for nearly two years.

Mohammed Sarfraz was an adviser to the North West regional board of the popular TV charity appeal but betrayed the trust put in him, Burnley Crown Court heard.

But the 49-year-old was also paid, via his own consultancy, for drawing up funding applications to Children In Need, the court was told.

MP Andrew Stephenson said it was a shocking crime and Sarfraz had let down thousands of volunteers.

Safraz ran the TMS Consultancy, which was registered to his home address and drafted Children In Need grant applications. But the link was not made clear to clients or the charity itself.

He was also employed as children’s trust co-ordinator for Lancashire County Council across East Lancs, but has now lost his job and his good name, a judge heard.

Fearing that Children In Need officials would become suspicious, he channelled applications through a third party, prosecutors said.

Sarfraz, of Hartley Street, Nelson, admitted fraud, between September 2008 and July 2010 by dishonestly abusing his position as an adviser to Children’s in Need northern regional committee.

He was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, with 200 hours community service. Sarfraz had no previous convictions.

Judge Jonathan Gibson also ordered him to pay £4,261 in compensation within the next six months and banned him from being a company director for five years.

Passing sentence, Judge Gibson said: “You were a trusted member on the committee and you betrayed that trust by failing to disclose the conflict of interests.”

Mark Stuart, defending, said Sarfraz had worked for the county council for 20 years and was involved with a number of local organisations which helped children across East Lancs.

The court heard Sarfraz had now lost his job, his good character and his standing within the community, as the offence had brought a great deal of shame upon him.

Mr Stuart added: "He has already found himself ostracised by many of those with whom he had previously worked or spent time.”

Speaking after the case Det Insp Dave Groombridge, of Pennine CID, said: “Sarfraz abused his position of trust.

“His conviction follows a protracted investigation involving the full co-operation of the BBC Children in Need charity.

“If the integrity of charity donations and the reliance upon public giving is to be maintained there can be no room for those who seek to manipulate the generosity of others for their own gain.

“Whilst no children’s charities were disadvantaged as a result of Mr Sarfraz’s crime, his sentence today reflects the seriousness of the charge and the public revulsion at the efforts to deceive a great British institution.

“Fortunately, there are some extremely robust and efficient systems in place at Children in Need which ensure issues such as this are highlighted and brought to the attention of the police.”

The annual fundraiser, televised last Friday and hosted by Sir Terry Wogan, now in its 33rd year, collected more than £26.75million.

Yesterday Children In Need organisers were said to be not available to comment but in January they confirmed that he was no longer involved with the charity.

Pendle MP Mr Stephenson said: “This is one of those shocking cases where someone in a position of responsibility has clearly breached the trust put in them.

“He has not only let himself down but all those volunteers and fundraisers he was supposed to be working for.”

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