Charity worker conwoman stole £4,000 from Portsmouth group battling child sex slavery

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A CONWOMAN stole £4,000 from a charity desperately fighting to stop orphans being sold into sex slavery.

Charity worker Joanne Brooks is facing an 18-month jail term after admitting taking the cash while working as a trusted shop supervisor at Stella’s Voice in Kingston Road, Portsmouth.

Charity worker Joanne Brooks appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court where she admitted taking more than 4,000 from the organisation she worked for that tried to stop children being sold into sex slavery''Picture: (250619-9748)

Charity worker Joanne Brooks appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court where she admitted taking more than 4,000 from the organisation she worked for that tried to stop children being sold into sex slavery''Picture: (250619-9748)

The 49-year-old took £4,272 that should have gone to help nearly 80 children at three charity-run safe houses for youngsters and a state-run orphanage the group supports.

Volunteers who became pals with Brooks at the shop while she had her £16,000-a-year job have been left devastated at finding out her true nature - and were stunned to learn she was jailed for a £155,000 fraud in 2012.

Wayne Keeping, charity operations director, said: ‘I’m disgusted - that trust was built up over a year. She started as a volunteer, then part-time, then we gave her the role as supervisor and we knew nothing about the previous history.’

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Joanne Brooks in 2012.

Joanne Brooks in 2012.

Trust in the supervisors at the income-generating five charity-run shops has been torn away, with monitoring computer systems put in place. 

‘When you’ve got someone like that for a year about to rob you and learning your systems it leaves you a bit devastated,’ said Mr Keeping. ‘But we never let it stop us once.’

Her callous theft of cash due to be banked emerged on March 31, 2017, two years after she joined in summer 2015, during a monthly check. Shocked staff at the charity, which operates in Moldova, went to police.

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Joanne Brooks appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court and admitted stealing from a charity trying to stop children being sold into sex slavery. Picture: (250619-9753)

Joanne Brooks appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court and admitted stealing from a charity trying to stop children being sold into sex slavery. Picture: (250619-9753)

She told investigators ‘three answers’ when asked about the missing money - but finally admitted the theft on Tuesday four hours after a jury was sworn in for her trial.

Mum-of-three Brooks was on licence after being jailed for five-and-a-half years for swindling cash out of a business run by pals.

Indicating a maximum sentence, judge David Melville QC said: ‘Not more than 18 months imprisonment. The question remains as to whether that should be suspended.’

After the indication, grandmother-of-three Brooks, of Binsteed Road, Buckland, pleaded guilty on the basis that she took the money and was bailed for sentence on July 19.

Support the charity, with Havant, Waterlooville and Portsmouth, and two in Scotland, at stellasvoice.org.uk

WHAT THE CHARITY DOES 

LIFELINE charity shops provide nearly every penny anti-trafficking charity Stella’s Voice needs to help youngsters.

This means that 100 per cent of any donations handed in go straight to helping 42 children at the two safe houses for girls and one for boys in Moldova.

Charity workers take on children kicked out of state-run orphanages at the age of 16 and under their protective wing guide them through their late teens and through university.

They worry that children are left on the streets can be forced into prostitution.

Operations director Wayne Keeping said: ‘The safe houses are used to provide care and direction, and a home, for children that wouldn’t otherwise have it, so they can dream again.

‘They’re told they’re the lowest in the country. We remove the risk of trafficking and give them a family environment.

‘It’s removing that risk of trafficking so they’re not left on the streets. We put the gap there so when they’re kicked out there’s a home.’

On the financial impact of Brooks’ crime, he added: ‘We have to feed these kids so at that time, as directors our wages come secondary to helping those kids, I’m sure we probably had to wait for wages in that month.’