A CROOKED accountant who stole tens of thousands of pounds from two North-East charities has been jailed.

Paul Brown-King, 62, volunteered his services to Bullion Hall, a community resource centre in Chester-le-Street, where he abused his position to transfer £53,655 into his own account over a five year period.

He was caught after making a cheque for £11,269 from another charity, Mental Health North East, where he was employed as an accountant, to cover his tracks.

Brown-King appeared at Durham Crown Court yesterday to be sentenced having pleaded guilty previously to two counts of fraud between 2012 and 2017.

Prosecuting, Pater Sabiston, said: “Bullion Hall is a valuable community charity.

“The auditors were completely reliant on the figures produced by the accused.

“There was never a reason to challenge the figures from the accused, who was trusted.

“At Mental Health North East, they were completely shocked by the discovery.

“He had put money into his own account because he had his own financial difficulties.

“He said he was robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“The impact has been significant.”

As well as taking money from the coffers, bills from the organisation went unpaid.

The court was told the charity, which helps out other organisations in the community, only survived by getting an emergency loan of £21,000 from Durham County Council, which it is still having to repay.

In a victim impact statement, Belinda Lowis, development manager at Bullion Hall said: “When the police came to see me they said we had been receiving money from another charity by fraudulent means. It was a complete shock.

“I could not comprehend what I was being told.”

Neil Kelly, chairman of the board of trustees at Mental Health North East, which supports people experiencing mental ill health across the region, said the charity could have been forced to close if Brown-King’s fraud had not been picked up.

In a victim impact statement, he said: “If we had not discovered his actions it may well have forced our organisation to close.

“We did consider shutting down and until we found out who was responsible everyone in the organisation was under scrutiny.

“We felt incredibly let down and it led us to consider our judgement.

“We trusted Mr Brown-King. He betrayed that trust and caused us great anxiety as a result.”

Tony Davis, mitigating, said Brown-King, had suffered from financial problems himself after he was made redundant and had considered suicide following his arrest.

He said his Brown-King, of Sturdee Gardens, West Jesmond, Newcastle, had a house worth more than £250,000 and was planning to repay both charities in full for the amount taken.

Mr Davis said: “Can I express, on his behalf, his utter remorse for the position that his colleagues and those that trusted him found themselves in.

“He now suffers abject humiliation socially and professionally given his predicament.”

The court was told he was a man of previous good character with no previous convictions.

Mr Davis said: “It was a single and salutary shock to the system for a man of 62 to find himself incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Prison.

“For that he seeks to blame no-one but himself.

“He seeks in no way to minimise or justify his behaviour but it is borne of the significant difficulty he found himself in after being made redundant from lucrative employment.

“He is thoroughly ashamed of what he did and hopes to make recompense.

“I am confident that will follow these proceedings.”

Judge Christopher Prince said the offences were so serious only an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate.

He said: “It must be observed here that you were not stealing from your employer.

“You were stealing from charities undertaking very important work in their communities.

“You knew their financial positions. You knew it would take them to the brink of extinction.”

Jailing him for 20 months, the judge said: “You knew they were charities you were stealing from. The fact they survived is no thanks to you.

“This is a really bad example of a breach of trust.

“It is important a very clear message is sent out to others, especially those who work with charities, if they take that charity money, they go to prison.”