Judge brands lorry driver, 56, who raised £24,000 for son of murdered soldier Lee Rigby then used funds to record ‘flop’ music single and prop up his bank account ‘despicable’ as he is jailed for two-and-a-half years
- Gary Gardner told donors that money raised would go towards Rigby’s family
- Jury at Leicester Crown Court that Gardner spent profits on a ‘flop’ music single
- Court heard Gardner was desperate to become a music promoter with artists
- Jailing him, recorder Helen Malcolm QC called Gardner’s actions ‘despicable’
Gary Gardner (pictured outside Leicester Crown Court) has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for putting money raised for the son of Lee Rigby into his own account
A ‘despicable’ conman who pocketed money given to a fund meant for the young son of murdered soldier Lee Rigby and then used it to record a music single and prop up his bank account has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.
Lorry driver Gary Gardner, 56, told charity donors money raised at a truck pulling event would go to the family of the Fusilier killed in the 2013 terror attack.
A jury at Leicester Crown Court was told Gardner, from Medbourne, Leicestershire, instead spent the cash on producing a music single he knew would be a ‘flop’.
He was desperate to become a promoter in the music industry and deal with ’emerging music artists’, the court heard.
Jailing 56-year-old Gardner for two counts of fraud, Recorder Helen Malcolm QC said: ‘There has been an impact on every one of those who volunteered to assist you.’
Accepting that Gardner – who has previous convictions for theft and fraud from 1980 and 1995 – had not set out with the intention to defraud, the judge ruled that around £26,000 had been collected for Jack Rigby.
Recorder Malcolm added: ‘Not one penny of the sums that you collected have been paid to Jack Rigby. I accept all the evidence that you worked very hard. In your favour I accept that you did not set out with the intention to defraud.
‘The fact remains that what you did was undoubtedly dishonest. I would say it was indeed despicable.
‘You used their [the Rigby family] name to collect funds at a time the community felt an upsurge of emotion in their favour.
‘Not one penny of the sums you collected has been paid to Jack Rigby. It is an undoubted fact you were in a position of trust. Every single person thought it was for a good cause, each trusted you – and you have let them down.’
The fraudster admitted he spent up to £5,000 donated by the public for Jack Rigby on producing a charity music single, which only made £200
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Recorder Malcolm added Gardner had caused ‘particular trauma’ to Private Rigby’s widow, Rebecca, for putting her through another trial when she ‘could have expected to be left in peace’.
In a victim impact statement read to the court by Samuel Skinner, prosecuting, Mrs Rigby added: ‘It has taken me some time to come to terms with what happened after the murder of my late husband, Lee Rigby.
‘Although I did not give evidence at that trial, I found it very difficult sitting in the court through that trial. I feel this matter with Mr Gardner will draw the eyes of the world on us again and it will be like reliving the events of that time.’
Gardner denied taking money meant for Lee Rigby’s son and putting it into his own bank account, telling police in 2016 the £431 transfer from a Nationwide treasures account was made to cover an expense.
The fraudster admitted he spent up to £5,000 donated by the public for Jack Rigby on producing a charity music single, which only made £200.
Lee Rigby’s widow Rebecca was in court to hear the two guilty verdicts on Thursday.
Opening the crown’s case at the start of the one-week trial, prosecutor Samuel Skinner said Gardner also used profits for travel expenses in London as he transferred funds from the charity bank account to his own personal account.
Mr Skinner told jurors: ‘The defendant appears to have an enthusiasm for promoting emerging music artists and it is the showcasing of these acts that has swallowed up most of the verifiable donations.
‘In any event, the defendant used some of the money for a purpose that the original donors never intended and would not have approved if they had known.
‘It appears that the defendant has spent all the money he received.’
The court was told the lorry driver put on truck-pull events in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – fundraisers which were attended by thousands of people, including Fusilier Rigby’s widow and his son Jack.
Rebecca Rigby with son Jack at the Vigil of Fusilier Lee Rigby held at Bury Parish Church, Lancashire in July 11, 2013. Mrs Rigby said in court: ‘Jack and myself have never received a penny from him’
Members of Lee Rigby’s Regiment pull a six-ton lorry at event in Leicestershire organised by Gardiner on August 26, 2013 to raise funds for his son Jack
Giving evidence in the trial, Mrs Rigby said: ‘There were talks of climbing Kilimanjaro, there were a number of things he wanted to do to raise funds for Jack.
‘He spoke about large money – thousands – and it was as if it would set Jack up for life.’
Mrs Rigby was asked ‘Have you ever received any money from this defendant?’ to which she replied: ‘Jack and myself have never received a penny from him.’
Gardner had denied three counts of fraud but was found not guilty of one count which alleged he failed to keep a record of the amounts raised from fundraisers.
After verdicts were reached, Steven Kennell from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: ‘Gary Gardner’s beneficiary, the trust set up for Fusilier Rigby’s son, never received a penny from him.
‘The CPS has presented clear-cut evidence to the court that Gardner did not pass any of the money he raised to the trust fund, and only made the local donations he did make when confronted about his activities.
‘Whatever his intentions in starting his fundraising, the jury has agreed his activities constituted fraud, in failing to transfer the funds to the beneficiary and spending funds on the charity single.’
Lee Rigby was brutally murdered in Woolwich in May 22
Mr Kennell added: ‘It was the prosecution’s case that he has behaved dishonestly throughout, even inviting the Rigby family to attend his events and posing publicly with a presentation cheque to imply he had donated the money.’
In his police statement read to the jury last week, Gardner said: ‘The single wasn’t a success because of the bureaucracy of Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister and the press.
‘They were making out they didn’t want to upset any Muslims.’
Jurors heard claims 56-year-old Gardner raised at least £24,000 from various events but only £4,000 made its way to any charity because of his ‘enthusiasm for promoting emerging music artists’.
Jack was just two-years-old when Lee was murdered in May 2013 by Islamic extremists in London.
He was killed on May 22, 2013, by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. They ran him over, used knives and a cleaver to stab and hack him to death.
The men dragged Rigby’s body into the road in Woolwich, London, and remained at the scene until police arrived.
Mrs Rigby said: ‘He [Gardner, pictured] spoke about large money – thousands – and it was as if it would set Jack up for life’
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