Veterans angered as thief who stole £44,000 from HMS Ganges Association is told to pay back just £1

Police Car / Incident Stock Pic (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150519-172740001

UPDATE: Arrests made after suspected kidnapping attempt in Southsea

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A FRAUDSTER who stole £44,000 from a veterans’ association has been ordered to pay back just £1.

Martin Foster was last year forced to serve nine months of an 18-month term for stealing from the Portsmouth-based HMS Ganges Association while he was its treasurer.

Martin Foster

Martin Foster

He was at Portsmouth Crown Court for a hearing to establish how much of the stolen cash he could pay back.

The answer, disappointingly for members, was next to nothing.

Association member Marshall Clarke, 75, said the ruling was ‘despicable’.

Mr Clarke, of Purbrook, said Mr Foster probably stole a lot more money but that was unable to be proven.

He said: ‘What an absolute waste of time, he might just as well never have been in court. The law is an ass.’

Member Des Kerrigan said he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ by the court ruling, especially since Foster had promised to pay the money back.

Mr Kerrigan said: ‘For him to go back on a promise to repay the money is absolutely appalling and it shows how British justice falls down.’

Association chairman Shep Woolley, 69, of Southsea, said he was ‘more-or-less satisfied’ Foster had been punished for the theft.

Mr Woolley, who lives in Southsea, said: ‘I’m not particularly happy but then again I can’t do anything about the fact that Martin’s got no money.

‘We’ve had a big spit in the association due to it and then thanks to the tenacity of the members and the camaraderie we’ve put it right again.’

The court ruled the case could be revisited if Foster was ever able to pay something back, which Mr Woolley was hopeful of.

He said: ‘He has a service pension coming up in a few years time that we may be able to tap into.’

Hampshire Constabulary’s financial investigator Rachel Barnes said the verdict was inevitable as Mr Foster didn’t have the money to repay the association.

Ms Barnes said: ‘The court made a confiscation order to say that Mr Foster benefited from his crime to the tune of £43,985.

‘Through our financial investigation we haven’t found any money that he could pay it back with.’

Father-of-two Foster must still serve the final month of his sentence.

If he is unable to pay the pound within a week, he will have to stay in prison for another seven days.

The association has about 2,800 members, all of whom trained as teenagers at HMS Ganges naval base.

From August 15, 2010 to June 7, 2012, Foster defrauded his colleagues out of the money stolen through manipulation of the accounts that he had access to in his role.

Committee members realised the fraud when they went to pay for the costs of a meeting held at a hotel in Liverpool and their cheque to the hotel bounced.

Foster was arrested in August 2012, and the original charges were for a total of £78,000.

THE HMS Ganges Association had to double its subscription fee from £10 to £20 a year in an effort to claw back the money Martin Foster stole.

Member Des Kerrigan said it had not been easy to build the group’s finances back up after being left broke by Mr Foster.

Mr Kerrigan said the members, who were pensioners, had to dig deep into their pockets.

He said: ‘We were put in a very bad position that we couldn’t pay for our reunion expenses. It has been a sad time for us, but we are we once again a happy band of brothers.’

The association organises reunions for people who served at the former naval training base at Shotley Gate near Ipswich.

Thousands of 15 and 16-year-olds spent a year at the school until it closed in 1976.

The association was set up to keep the spirit of HMS Ganges alive and provide a way for its members to keep in touch.