Thetford: Former chairman of amateur dramatic group admits 7K fraud

Bury Magistrates' Court

Bury Magistrates' Court

The former chairman of an amateur dramatic group said he was “disgusted” with his own behaviour after pocketing thousands of pounds he was expected to bank.

Robert Waple, of St Michaels Close, Thetford, pleaded guilty to a single charge of abuse of position when he appeared at West Suffolk Magistrates’ Court in Bury St Edmunds yesterday.

The court was told that the 39-year-old had taken £7,394 for himself while occupying the position of chairman for the Thetford Players between January 1, 2010 and March 23 this year.

Roslind Cappleman, prosecuting, said members of the dramatic group became suspicious after £1,400 from ticket sales failed to appear in their bank account.

The court was told that Waple had “come up with a number of stories”; claiming that the bank had not been open and he had placed money in a safe at work. Magistrates heard he later claimed the bank cashier must have “misread his handwriting” and placed the funds in the wrong account.

But a subsequent meeting arranged with the bank to discuss the issue was cancelled by Waple.

On March 22, an emergency meeting was called by members of the group – many of who were in the public gallery to watch proceedings – where a number of financial discrepancies were disclosed.

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Mrs Cappleman said missing funds included the £1,100 off-line donations made to the Thetford Players for a Monopoly Race in August last year – cash that should have gone to East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices.

Other money, including £710 taken at four fundraising craft fairs, was also missing.

Mrs Cappleman said the Thetford Players have been forced to take out a loan of £4,000 to avoid the group going under.

A statement from Joanne Cooper, vice-chair of the dramatic group, was read to the court, describing why the players had decided to prosecute. She said: “It wasn’t just the taking of the money; it was the lies and deceit to get the funds. We took it for granted that he was banking the money, instead he was funding his life.”

Jakki Upton, mitigating, said father-of-one Waple had given up his job in 2011 to become sole carer for his wife who suffers from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

She said her client had struggled financially and had used up his savings to pay for household bills.

Mrs Upton added: “He tells me he is disgusted with his behaviour and he wants to express his apologies to the Thetford Players.”

She said that Waple had intended to pay back the money in full when he got a job but had been unable to do so. His parents have now offered to repay the full amount.

Mrs Upton said her client had suffered suicidal thoughts and is now on anti-depressants.

Chair of magistrates, Stuart Roy, said given the persistent nature of the offence and “the lies put out to cover it up and ultimately the affect it’s had on the victims”, the case should be sentenced at crown court.

The sentencing will take place at Norwich Crown Court, with a date to be fixed.