Ipswich: Thief pocketed elderly’s Christmas fund to pay for his wedding

IPSWICH: He’s ruined our Christmas.

That was the angry claim from elderly residents at a sheltered housing scheme today after their social club treasurer admitted pilfering nearly �3,000 they had raised for their festive celebrations.

Heartless Christopher Gummer lavished the cash stolen from those living at Walton House on his wedding and honeymoon.

The 62-year-old, of Curlew Road, was only spared an immediate prison sentence so that he could pay back the money.

Gummer admitted fraud by abuse of position when he appeared before South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court this week.

Prosecutor Lesla Small told the court a total of �2,950 was stolen from Walton House Social Club’s petty cash box and bank account after Gummer was voted into the position of treasurer at the beginning of April.

The money was raised through coffee mornings and other events by members of the club, who live in the 35 flats which make up the complex in Emlen Street, off London Road.

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Joyce Thompson, who has worked at Walton House for 19 years, spoke on behalf of the residents at the hearing, telling District Judge David Cooper the money would have paid for Christmas dinner, trips out and entertainment evenings, as well as giving each resident a �10 festive bonus.

When she discovered there was just �60 left in the bank account in September, she said informing club members “was like telling them someone had died”.

“All the money has gone,” Mrs Thompson said. “The residents will not have any Christmas at all this year.

“It is despicable. The residents don’t have much. This meant so much to them.”

Prosecutor Ms Small told the court some of the money was used to pay for Gummer’s wedding in June.

J Akpogheneta, mitigating, told the court of the “exceptional circumstances” which led Gummer to commit fraud.

She said he has recently been diagnosed with cancer, has mental health issues and at the time was grieving the death of his mother.

“He does not seek to put forward excuses,” she said. “He does not understand why he committed the offence.

“He accepts what he did but says he was not in a right frame of mind.”

Judge Cooper told Gummer his actions meant the residents had been deprived of the “little treats that make age more bearable”.

“When I first heard the facts from the prosecution I felt that what you have done was really shocking, but when I heard from Mrs Thompson I just felt it was an outrage.

“All these people voted for you, trusted you and the reward for them was you steal their money and spend it on getting married.

“I find it impossible to understand how you could have done such a thing.

“This was a very grave and prolonged, fraudulent theft.”

Judge Cooper handed Gummer an 18-week prison sentence, which he suspended for 18 months on the basis he carries out 200 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Gummer was also ordered to pay back the �2,950.99 he stole as well as �85 costs.

Judge Cooper warned Gummer that if the agreed monthly payments of �400 were not paid on time he would be sent to prison.

He thanked Mrs Thompson and the residents of Walton House for coming to court.

“I hope despite all this you don’t have an unhappy Christmas,” he added.

n What do you think? Was the judge right not to jail Gummer? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can send an e-mail to eveningstarletters @eveningstar.co.uk