Jail for ‘despicable’ fraudster who kept funds raised for murdered Lee Rigby's son

Scheming Gary Gardner, 56, (SWNS)
Scheming Gary Gardner, 56, (SWNS)

A "despicable" charity fraudster who pocketed funds collected for the son of murdered Lee RIgby to further his own music career has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Scheming Gary Gardner, 56, conned well-wishers out of over £20,000 before keeping the money which he said would be donated to the family of the slain fusilier.

The HGV driver instead blew the cash on recording a "flop" music single with his band and paying off his overdraft.

Gardner was found guilty of two counts of fraud following an eight day trial at Leicester Crown Court on Thursday (13/9).

Today (Fri) the conman showed no emotion as he was jailed and given a restraining order banning him from making contact with Pte's Rugby's wife and son.

Drummer Rigby's widow Rebecca, 35, was in court to watch him sentenced after she gave crucial evidence at the trial which led to his conviction.

Sentencing, Recorder Helen Malcom QC described Gardner's crimes as "despicable" and said he had "let down" those who had shown generosity by donating.

She said: "On the evidence we have heard you were put into a position of trust.

"Not only were the victims vulnerable, there has been trauma to the family, particularly to Rebecca when she could have been left in peace.

"Then there were all those that gave their time and skills who thought they were contributing to the best of causes - you let every single one of them down.

"You did not set out defraud anybody and certainly no suggestion of benefiting from living a lavish lifestyle and I accept you put your own money into these events.

"I accept that you worked hard at those events but the fact remains that what you did was dishonest by the standards of honest decent people and it was despicable what you did by the standards of those people.

"In setting the sentence I take into account the effects on the family who have suffered enough, and for the high level of trust that people put into you."

The court heard how Gardner raised at least £24,000 from two truck-pull events in Market Harborough, Leics.

But not a single penny was donated to Pte Rigby's eight-year-old Jack, who was aged two when his dad was butchered by Islamic extremists in 2013.

Prosecutor Samuel Skinner said: "Jack's father had been murdered in an atrocious way and his family were themselves dealing with the grief they suffered.

"Indeed the whole country took note of the event in May 2013.

"The fundraising was was a chance to set Jack up for life but it was a chance that was squandered.

"It was a fraudulent activity committed over a period of time and involved significant planning.

"It is a case of a sophisticated nature and was a sophisticated fraud from the outset"

Gardner transferred the funds into his account and spent some of it recording a single called "Miss You Machine" with his band 'Together In Harmony'.

He had been desperate to become a promoter in the music industry and deal with 'emerging music artists', the court was told.

Villagers became suspicious of Gardner's actions following the truck-pull charity event in 2013.

Gardner, of Medbourne, Leics.,had vowed to raise enough to set Jack "up for life" with celebrity-led events, including one starring 70s band Boney M.

Gardner spent over £3,000 hosting the lavish event in Trafalgar Square to promote the launch of the charity single.

Gardner said he had been trying to break a Guinness World Record for most downloads in an hour - but ended up making just £200 from the single.

The court was told only £4,000 made its way to any charity organisation and not a penny had gone to Pte Rigby's family.

In a victim impact statement read to the court,Rebecca said: "In my original statement reporting the matter to the police I mentioned that it took some time to get over the murder of my late husband on the May 22 2013.

"I found it very difficult to sit through the original trial through I did not give evidence.

"I have never given a press interview about what happened with Lee and have always guarded my private feelings because I believe it is almost inevitable I will asked about events surroundings Lee's murder that will put me in a difficult place.

"I feel that this trial has been like reliving the events of that time again. I feel that this matter will draw the eyes of the world on to us again.

"I feel disgusted about what Mr Gardener has done with the money that was meant for my son and those people who gave there time and donated to charity."

She added in a hand-written statement issued by police: "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 members of the jury for coming to the right and justified conclusion."

The court also heard how Gardner had two previous convictions, one for theft and another was fraud, for which he received a community order.

Helen Johnson, defending, said: ""He did not use the money to fund a lavish lifestyle and he was not dishonest from the outset.

"It would be unfair to say some of the money was lost.

"It could not be termed that Jack had lost anything in terms of what he already had and he was very young when the events themselves had occurred so would not feel the impact."

Detective Constable Andy Cree, of Leicestershire Police, said after the case: "Gardner was a callous individual who exploited a good cause.

"He had no concerns in contacting a bereaved family for his own financial gain.

"This investigation was lengthy and complex, Gardner tried to cover his tracks and not leave a trace of his activity.

"However, we uncovered the true extent of his criminality and put him before the courts.

"We are pleased with the conviction and hope that those affected by his actions feel that justice has been served."