A “despicable” fraudster who failed to hand over more than £20,000 raised for the son of murdered soldier Lee Rigby has been jailed.
Lorry driver Gary Gardner was told he will serve half of a two-and-a-half-year sentence in custody for two counts of fraud committed in the three years after the fusilier’s murder in 2013.
The 56-year-old lorry driver, who has previous convictions for theft and fraud dating back to 1980 and 1995, showed no emotion as he was told he had caused trauma to the soldier’s widow, Rebecca Rigby.
Gardner, of Old Holt Road, Medbourne, Leicestershire, was found guilty on Thursday after an eight-day trial was told he used some of the charity funds to “prop up” his overdrawn bank account.
Although Gardner paid around £4,000 to other charities after a series of high-profile fund-raising events, he failed to pay a penny of a further £20,250 donated by the public to help Fusilier Rigby’s young son, Jack.
In a victim impact statement read into the court record before the sentencing, Rebecca Rigby said she was disgusted at Gardner’s actions.
In the statement, she said the proceedings had placed her in a “daunting” emotional place and forced her to relive her attendance at the trial of her husband’s killers.
Rigby stated that a further trial was like reliving the earlier trial, adding: “I feel that this matter with Mr Gardner will draw the eyes of the world upon us again.
“I feel disgusted about Mr Gardner not making good his promises with regard to my son and abusing my family name.”
Jailing Gardner at Leicester Crown Court on Friday, Recorder Helen Malcolm QC told the HGV driver: “There has been an impact on every one of those who volunteered to assist you.
“Not one penny of the sums that you collected have been paid to Jack Rigby.
“Not only was the principal victim particularly vulnerable, there has been trauma to the family, particularly trauma to Rebecca Rigby, putting her through a second trial when she might quite reasonably have been left in peace.
“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.”
The trial was told that Gardner put on truck-pull events in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Leicestershire villages of Medbourne and Market Harborough, and Stroud in Gloucestershire.
The events were attended by thousands of people, including Fusilier Rigby’s widow and son.
Jurors, who cleared Gardner of a third fraud charge, heard claims he had wasted much of the money collected on producing a charity single which proved to be a flop.
Defence counsel Helen Johnson said Gardner had arranged for his solicitors to pay a cheque for £3,050 to Jack’s trust.
Offering mitigation, Johnson told the court: “We say Mr Gardner has expressed remorse for the impact his behaviour has had on Rebecca Rigby.
“He worked extremely hard, to the point of exhaustion. His abilities were perhaps not matched to his energy and his wish to do good work.”
Prosecutor Samuel Skinner told the hearing the facts of Gardner’s previous convictions – including an appearance at Gloucester Crown Court in November 1995 when he was given a community order for fraud – were unavailable as records had been destroyed.
Gardner, who the judge said had not used the charity funds to live a lavish lifestyle, will face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing on December 14.
Rigby, who gave evidence at Gardner’s trial, issued a written statement after he was jailed.
It read: “On behalf of myself and Jack I would like to thank the residents of Medbourne, the police and members of the court for all their help and support.
“I would also like to thank the members of the jury for coming to the right and justified conclusion.”