Portsmouth Crown Court heard married Philip Gibbs, 64, took the cash while company secretary at an organisation representing the British outdoor leisure industry.
As the sole paid employee at the Waterlooville-based Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association, which represents manufacturers and distributors of garden furniture and barbecues, he had free access to its bank accounts.
Between August in 2013 to October 2018 he directed funds into six of his own bank accounts - splashing some of it on a £46,000 Land Rover, and attempting to buy a Tesla.
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Among his methods of illicitly obtaining the money was faking a letter-headed invoice from Cystic Fibrosis for a £2,500 donation in April 2016.
Instead of the charity’s bank details, Gibbs put his own account on the letter. He did this again with a £5,000 donation for Marie Curie.
Sentencing, judge David Melville QC said Gibbs ‘very seriously abused’ his position in the fraud involving ‘significant planning’ and had a ‘serious impact’ on the company.
Jailing Gibbs, who admitted fraud, judge Melville said the directors would have been caused ‘not a little anxiety’ as he took the cash ‘right under their noses’.
The Royal Navy veteran, who wore Falklands and Gulf War medals to Lofa functions, was jailed for 27 months. He has no previous convictions.
Standing in the secure dock he said ‘please sir no’ as the sentence was handed down.
The company had to change its office, bring in extra staff and pay for legal advice following Gibbs’ actions.
His fraud was uncovered after Gibbs, of Lychgate Drive, Horndean, was made redundant with a £20,000 package.
An admin worker was brought in after Gibbs left and uncovered thousands of pounds missing. Gibbs was then contacted.
Prosecutor Tom Nicholson said an email was sent back ‘purporting to be from his wife’ claiming he had ‘contracted skin cancer and due to an experimental treatment (has) early onset dementia’.
A further email claimed Gibbs had no memory of taking money due to his ‘physical and mental health but felt obliged to repay’. In all he paid back £2,705.
As company secretary Gibbs was in charge of managing a major trade fair, called Solex, held at the Birmingham NEC, and also had access to the bank accounts.
During the fraud he used five methods to siphon off cash, including making out 32 cheques for just more than £38,000 by using names of innocent employees of another organisation.
He made £53,891 in purchase orders, including the two involving charities.
He also made £16,000 via refunds on hotels and hospitality costs, spent £2,739 on a Shell fuel card filling up his own cars, despite this being for his company car.
Gibbs also made five purchases totalling £5,800, including £1,000 on walkie-talkies - and spending money on getting an electric charging point outside the office. He had tried to put down payments for a Tesla.
Ed Hollingsworth, mitigating, said the fraud was ‘pretty basic’. He said: ‘His fraud, although serious, was not a fraud targeting or had a material impact on individuals.’
He said he cared for his mother-in-law at home with his wife. Judge Melville said: ‘This can only be dealt with by an immediate sentence of imprisonment.’
Company 'shocked’ by fraud
MEMBERS of the organisation defrauded by Philip Gibbs were ‘shocked’ after discovering his crime.
Gina Hinde, current company secretary of Lofa, said: ‘It was a shock because he was running the organisation.’
She added: ‘We give to charity every year. He’d even taken that money for himself.
‘It was a huge, huge shock – everyone was really, really shocked. They couldn’t believe it.
‘We did some forensic accounting. We went through all the books and just dug down into what he’d done and that’s when we found all the different things that he siphoned off.
‘We didn’t find out until he’d been made redundant. It was a letter that came to the office that the chair then looked at – and thought “it isn’t right”.
‘It’s incredible – he’s had all that money (in redundancy) and it was going on for years.’