TWO men have been sentenced for stealing nearly £170,000 after being entrusted with the proceeds from the sale of the premises of a social club in Woking.
Colin Dobson and David Eskriett were convicted when they appeared at Guildford Crown Court on Monday, having pleaded guilty to the swindle involving Woking Liberal Club, which amounted to £169,810 and took place between December 1, 2008 and January 16, 2010.
A third man, Peter Charlton, 61, of Ashley Road in Woking, has also admitted guilt for his part in the scam and will be sentenced at the same court on March 4.
Last month, the trio pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by abuse of position, after siphoning the cash from the sale of the club for their own gain. Dobson, 51, of East Weare Road, Portland, Dorset, who as secretary was in overall charge of running the club, was sentenced to four years; while 29-year-old Eskriett, of Greylands, Woking, was given a 15-month sentence suspended for two years. He was also ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work.
The trio were co-opted members of the club’s management committee and were responsible for the finances and any decision made in relation to the sale of the premises. Woking Liberal Club was one of the first venues in which The Jam’s founder members and Woking school pals, Paul Weller and Steve Brookes, rehearsed and performed during the early 1970s.
The band first played there on December 31, 1974, on their local circuit before going on to hit the big time just a few years later. They recorded such familiar hits as This is the Modern World, News of the World (released in 1978 and still going strong on BBC2’s satirical panel game, Mock the Week), Going Underground and Town Called Malice, which was written about Woking.
In more recent years, though, the once popular Woking Liberal Club, just a minute’s walk from Paul Weller’s old home in Stanley Road, had become vacant and fallen into disrepair.
In 2008, due to declining revenue and mounting debt, club members decided to sell the dilapidated property, agreeing that any remaining funds would be split equally between them.
Borough councillors signed-off plans for using the site for a housing development, which they believed would benefit the Maybury area, and demolition was arranged.
However, once the money from the sale was in the club’s account, the three defendants started diverting cash from it for their own gain, by submitting invoices for ‘their services’.
Cheques for large amounts were paid directly into Dobson’s bank, and substantial sums of cash were drawn on the club’s account, often at the same time as sizeable payments would appear in the fraudsters’ bank accounts.
Other members of the club started to become suspicious when the trio started spending money inconsistent with their lifestyle. As such, the members reached a vote of no confidence and the defendants resigned from their positions while a new committee was elected.
When the new panel examined the club’s accounts, they discovered that the majority of the funds remaining from the proceeds of the sale had been diverted into the defendants’ accounts. They also found a number of fictitious invoices for equipment and building work apparently paid for cash-in-hand.
The trial revealed that Dobson had falsified records from the club’s meeting minutes to suggest the committee had agreed he was entitled to a salary of £20,000 a year. Police were called in and an investigation began.
Fraud and Financial Investigator for the Surrey Police Economic Crime Unit, Alex Bray, said: “All three men had been trusted to do the best for the club, with the funds from the sale of the premises to be split equally between the members once all debts had been paid off. But instead, Dobson, Eskriett and Charlton siphoned off large amounts of money by writing cheques to themselves, and submitted false invoices for work that was never carried out.
“Woking Liberal Club members realised what was going on when the men embarked on more lavish lifestyles, and so the matter was brought to our attention.
“Following a lengthy and complex investigation, which involved trawling through bank statements, we charged all three men with fraud by abuse of position, and on January 19 they pleaded guilty to the offence.
“The sentence given to the two culprits so far reflects the severity of their offending and sends a clear message that we will pursue all such allegations with diligence and determination.”
Ward Councillor for Maybury & Sheerwater, Ilyas Raja, told the News & Mail: “Charity money must be spent according to the rules and I am glad these people are being punished for what they have done, and have not got away with it.”