Age Concern boss guilty of stealing £700,000 in charity money

A greedy chief executive is facing a "significant" jail term after he pocketed over £700,000 of Age Concern cash during an eight-year fraud.
John Briers has been convicted following a trial at Newcastle Crown Court.John Briers has been convicted following a trial at Newcastle Crown Court.
John Briers has been convicted following a trial at Newcastle Crown Court.

John Briers, who at one time earned almost £6,000 per month, paid 60 of the charity's cheques into his own bank account, awarded himself 11 unauthorised bonuses and 19 additional pension contributions when he was Chief Executive Officer at the South Tyneside based branch on Beach Road, South Shields.

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Read more: John Briers gives evidence at fraud trial

The 57-year-old denied three offences of fraud between January 2007 and August 2015 during a trial at Newcastle Crown Court, where he has now been found guilty of all charges.

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Briers, who had been on bail throughout the trial, has now been remanded in custody and will be sentenced on May 24, after Judge Tim Gittins has been supplied with information from the charity and others effected by the large scale dishonesty.

Judge Gittins warned Briers: "You have been convicted by the jury, on clear and compelling evidence, of a significant fraud on a charity you were employed to protect the financial interests of.

"The sentence in due course will be a significant custodial sentence. I will determine the length of that sentence in the light of everything put before me.

"In the circumstances, I'm afraid you will be remanded in custody."

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Christopher Rose, defending, had made an application for Briers to be allowed bail until the sentence hearing and said he suffers health problems, which was refused.

The court heard Briers, a married dad, who worked at the charity for 21 years, was suspended from his post when financial manager Graham Cassidy noticed a supporting document submitted by Briers looked fake.

Mr Cassidy told jurors during the trial: "The reason it caused me concern, the reason it came so quickly to mind, was the fact the VAT was wrong."

Mr Cassidy said the appearance of the document itself also raised suspicion.

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He said: "It didn't feel like a good quality invoice, it didn't feel like a real invoice. It looked like something that had been photocopied."

Mr Cassidy said he spoke out about his worries when he was dealing with the invoice in August 2015, which resulted in an investigation.

The court heard a full staff meeting was called at the organisation and all employees were warned to have no contact with Briers, who was on holiday at the time.

Mr Cassidy added: "Mr Briers was being suspended pending investigation."

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The court heard investigators found templates of blank invoices for firms the organisation had dealt with when Briers' office was searched.

Prosecutor Anthony Dunne told the court: "The defendant is charge with three offences of fraud by abuse of position.

"The position he held was that he was chief executive of a charity, Age Concern South Tyne.

"The case against him is he dishonestly used that position to fraudulently pay to himself large amounts of Age Concern's money.

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"He made most of those payments simply by writing out cheques to himself.

"He then covered his tracks by pretending that those fraudulent payments were either payments to companies who had supplied good and services to Age Concern or bonus payments that were approved by the charity's board of trustees or special payments, also agreed by the board, or a sub-committee of the board.

"The defendant created false documents to explain those fraudulent payments.

"In the end, he was caught out because one of the documents he created contained obvious mistakes and the finance manager with the charity noticed.

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"In total, he stole over £700,000 from the charity through these means."

The court heard the money was taken from the two limbs of the organisation, one being the charity, which he was Chief Executive of, and the other was the trading company, which he was Secretary of.

Briers pocketed £433,236 through fraudulent cheques which he claimed were for suppliers, that he paid himself £104,560 in bonuses, including a special, duplicate monthly salary of £5,756, on one occasion, and that he used £169,703 of the charity's cash to top-up his pension.

Mr Dunne said Briers used fake invoices and even fraudulent minutes of board meetings in a bid to cover his tracks.

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Briers, of Woodstock Road, Gateshead, made no comment during police interview.

Briers told jurors, from the witness box during the trial, he was entitled to the payments and bonuses that went into his bank and that he also used the account to pay cash for services used by the charity.

The executive, who created fake invoices to try and cover his deception, claimed the bogus documents were simply "placeholders" to assist with accounting when the originals were lost and were never intended to look real.

Briers had claimed large sums of money would go through his account and be kept in the safe at his office to pay for services used by the charity and were never hidden from colleagues.