THE disgraced former chief executive of a leading regional charity has been ordered to pay back £148,000 after he defrauded his employer to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Graham Leggatt Chidgey was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud against the Butterwick Hospice when he appeared at Teesside Crown Court earlier this year.

Last year, Leggatt Chidgey, formerly of Rokeby, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, was sacked from his role at the charity, where he had served for more than 20 years, after his fraud was uncovered.

Police seized all his assets, coming in at just under £250,000, and Judge Sean Morris ordered today that he pay back £141,013.54 which is the original amount he stole, with interest calculated and added.

As a penalty he was also ordered to pay a further £7,844 by the judge, which was money he claimed he had received from family member accounts. 

The remaining money will be returned to him by police.

The £68,000-a-year boss was jailed after admitting abusing his position as chief executive of Butterwick Hospice by using its credit card for his personal expenditure over nearly eight years.

Between 2009 and 207, the former charity boss spent more than £30,000 on hotels and restaurants, including a £2,284 trip at an exclusive Scottish hotel around the time of his wedding anniversary. The fraudster also spent more than £20,000 on travel tickets and £18,000 on designer clothes and jewellery including £4,000 on Mont Blanc pens.

The Northern Echo: A hotel bill which was part of the evidence in the case against the former chief executive of Butterwick HospiceA hotel bill which was part of the evidence in the case against the former chief executive of Butterwick Hospice

Today, the 63-year-old was ordered to pay back the cash following a Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) hearing at Teesside Crown Court. He declined to attend the hearing to give evidence.

He was jailed for four years in June last year.

Following his conviction, the charity set out to try to rebuild the public’s confidence in the work and fundraising carried out in its name.

Today a spokesman for the Butterwick said: "We welcome today’s judicial decision and the award of £141,133.54 which will help us to continue our vital work.

"However, no financial reward can compensate for the damage caused by Graham Leggatt-Chidgey in terms of reputational impact, reduction in income, and emotional distress experienced by patients, their families, volunteers, and staff of Butterwick Hospice Care.

"However, we  have been enormously heartened by the support we have received from the public in recognising that the actions of one man should not be allowed to undermine the sacrifices made by our inspirational founder, Mary Butterwick OBE, and the exceptional dedication of our staff and volunteers.

"Today’s positive award provides an excellent basis for us to move forwards in building upon the excellent historical reputation of Butterwick Hospice Care, and  continue to serve those who need us most."

Judith Hunter, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said it had been an incredibly difficult time for the charity throughout the investigation as a lot of people had lost confidence in the organisation.

Detective Constable Debbie Southall: “Following the successful conviction and sentencing of Leggatt-Chidgey - former Butterwick Hospice Chief Executive - the work of Cleveland Police’s Economic Crime Unit was not over.

“Anyone who gains in material or monetary terms from criminal activity simply cannot be allowed to do so. We’ve worked tirelessly to formulate a confiscation order for the full amount of the charge of fraud - so that the hospice can be compensated well over £140,000 from Leggatt-Chidgey’s assets.

“The hospice is a long established and well-loved facility which provides essential services and facilities for people with life limiting conditions so I was deeply saddened to hear that it suffered a large drop in donations following Leggatt- Chidgey’s arrest and the criminal inquiry which followed.

“Leggatt-Chidgey not only let himself down, he let down the patients and their families who are at the heart of the work at the hospice. He also let down hospice staff, volunteers, the board of trustees - and the whole community of supporters.

“Insider fraud is driven by the greed of one person (or sometimes a number of people) in an organisation with total control of the finances. Leggatt-Chidgey was that one person – a rogue element within a charity that served its community well.

“He has paid the ultimate price. He lived and portrayed a lifestyle far above his means. He is now care of HMP and will pay back everything he stole, through the POCA.

“I’d like to congratulate everyone at the hospice for not allowing this situation to become a distraction and for carrying on their wonderful work throughout this difficult time. I wish them all the very best for the future.

Finally, I hope today’s outcome now draws a line under this case and that people consider justice done.”

The hospice, which has facilities in Stockton, Bishop Auckland and Weardale, provides specialist care for people of all ages who are suffering from a life-limiting illness.

Mary Butterwick sold her home and put all her savings into buying 10 Hartburn Lane, in Stockton - a crumbling Victorian semi that would be converted into The John Butterwick Day Care Centre, which opened in 1984.