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Wick Gala Embezzlement Court Case Continues

15th May 2010

Reporter - Noel Donaldson

A WOMAN who swindled a town improvements charity out of thousands of pounds while acting as its treasurer was given an ultimatum by a sheriff in Wick on Friday 14th May 2010.

Sheriff Ian Cameron warned Karen Spruce at Wick Sheriff Court that she must raise a further repayment of 5000 or face jail.

Spruce previously admitted embezzling 22,000 from the Wick Town Improvements Association, between April 26, 2005, and June 1, 2008, in a case which has been the subject of several continuations. The 55-year-old classroom assistant, who since moved away from Wick and is now living in Mill Street, Stornoway, has already repaid 5000, to the charity, and today, her agent, Neil Wilson, handed over a further sum, in the form of a cheque for 2,500. He said that his client had indicated she might be able to raise an additional 5000 within another month, from family and friends.

Spruce was said to be paying off other debts including a former solicitor's bill for 1000 but Sheriff Cameron stressed that these should not take priority over repayments to the charity.

The court was told that Spruce had volunteered to work with the charity, dedicated to raising money for the good of the town. However, she only gave verbal financial reports at meetings and did not show detailed accounts. When questioned, she said that the books were with the accountant and claimed there was 11,000 in the bank.

In May 2008, however, the then chairman approached the accountant to find out what was going on and was told the firm had not dealt with the accounts for three years. An emergency meeting of the association was held on June 10, 2008 and Spruce was asked to resign. Police carried out an investigation and Spruce accepted that there had been over 19,000 in the account when she took over as treasurer and that less than 200 remained. She offered no explanation regarding what had happened to the cash. The town improvements association subsequently disbanded and reformed as the Wick Gala Committee.

Mr Wilson told the court, today, that Spruce was "terrified" at the possibility of going to jail.

Sheriff Cameron gave her credit for the progress she had made in repaying the cash she had stolen and said he would give her four weeks in which to be "exceptionally nice to friends and family" and raise a further 5000.

But the sheriff stressed that the accused had taken the 22,000 and it was up to her to pay back the charity which was said to be "desperately needing it" and added: "Otherwise you will find yourself going down the road in a secure van to Cornton Vale (the women's prison in Scotland) and you would not like it there. It will be in your interest to come up with the 5000."

The latest chapter in the case was observed by members of the gala charity in the public benches.

Afterwards, chairwoman, Lorna Ross, described the progress as "encouraging". She said that if the latest request to pay 5000 materialised, it would bring the repayments to 12,500 but made the point that this would leave a shortfall as they still owed Highland Council 19,000 for riverside improvements.

Sheriff Andrew Berry who has, up until today, been dealing with case, expressed concern, at a previous sitting, that Spruce had not come clean about what had happened to the money she stole and he cast doubt on her claim that she had not gained through the fraud, arguing that the money had disappeared because of her failure to look after the books properly. He told her: "Your suggestion that you put money into the organisation also seems to me to be highly unlikely."

The case was continued until June 11.

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