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A fraudster and “female Fagin” fleeced a charity gym during a £392,000 scam

Pictured is Derby Crown Court.
Pictured is Derby Crown Court.

A fraudster who has been branded as a “female Fagin” has been jailed for nearly four years after she fleeced a charity-run community gym during a £392,000 scam.

Derby Crown Court heard on Monday, July 2, how co-ordinator Joyce Coupe, 47, formerly of Tibshelf, admitted using some of the charity money - including Big Lottery Fund grant cash - to make unauthorised salary payments for herself and family while she was running the Exercise 4 All charity gym, at Tibshelf.

She also admitted cashing cheques against the charitable company for herself, using money to pay for vehicles and mobile phones as well as a fuel account and she admitted forging invoices to make grant applications to the Big Lottery Fund.

Judge Robert Egbuna told Coupe: “You applied for funding and your activities led to, and your dishonesty accounted for, £392,000 being taken over a five year period.”

He added: “It’s not just simply that you were paying yourself monies for a salary, you were paying for mobile phones, a car and all your petrol expenses and not just simply for yourself. Your family were being assisted.”

The judge highlighted how Coupe had recruited well-meaning, unpaid, and innocent volunteers who unwittingly provided Coupe with an air of respectability but he told her: “You were a female Fagin from Charles Dickens.”

Coupe, now of Paetina Grove, Hucknall, also drew her son-in-law Thomas Bonser into her scheme to help her access more money after he admitted forging an invoice.

She pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud, three counts of forgery and admitted causing a loss to the Big Lottery Fund by making a false application for a capital expenditure grant with all the offences committed between 2010 and 2015.

Bonser, 30, of Cornmill Road, Sutton-in-Ashfield, pleaded to forgery by creating a false invoice for Coupe.

The court heard Coupe has no previous convictions but Judge Egbuna said she had shown absolutely no remorse.

He added: “One of the other mitigating factors is that you have brought shame on yourself and you have been vilified - quite properly some think - in your community.”

Defence barrister Duncan Smith said: “As a result of being investigated she’s been vilified and ostracised in the community and Tibshelf is a small community and she has had to move areas and no longer lives in the same county.

“And who can blame the people who take that view?

“It has resulted in a catastrophic fall of her standing in the community and I do not criticise those who did that but it’s an effect on her and a real and significant one.”

Prosecuting barrister Andrew Peet said some of the aggravating features of Coupe’s offending included attempts to implicate others, the impact on the community and that her family had benefitted.

Coupe was sentenced to three years and nine months of custody and banned from being a company director for five years.

Bonser received a 12 month community order with a three-month curfew.

Judge Egbuna also fixed a confiscation hearing for November 23 to consider potential reparation.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Matthew Newell, of Derbyshire Constabulary, was commended by the judge for his efforts in bringing a successful conviction.

Following the sentencing hearing, Det Con Newell said: “There was a lot of material to review from over five years and also there were tensions in the community as well and we supported the witnesses throughout this matter.

“The witnesses were fantastic and had kept records and they were superb and we got what we wanted.

“We did it all for the community to get justice for them.”

The charity Exercise 4 All was originally set up to help poorly, vulnerable and disabled people but following Coupe’s fraudulent activities the charity was forced to fold.

A spokesman for the former trustees said: “It’s been terrible. The saddest thing is that the gym has had to shut down when it was used by vulnerable and disabled people and it would not have closed if it had been in safe hands.”