R (Macmillan Cancer Support) v Annette Wilcox

On behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, we brought a private prosecution against Annette Wilcox for obtaining goods from major retail outlets for free on the basis she would be selling them to raise money for Macmillan and then attending rallies and car boot sales on at least 22 identified occasions, dating back to 2015. Mrs Wilcox purported to be raising funds for Macmillan, but was instead keeping the proceeds for herself. The true value of the donations collected on behalf of Macmillan is known only to Mrs Wilcox.  

Mrs Wilcox failed to attend 8 hearings and the court were informed that she had been bed-bound. However evidence was obtained placing Mrs Wilcox at a number of different locations during this time including a local supermarket the day before a hearing at Shrewsbury Crown Court in January 2021 in which she failed to attend due to purportedly being bed-bound. Mrs Wilcox subsequently attended court in person for the first time in July 2021.

On 5 October 2022, having previously pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation, Annette Wilcox was sentenced at Shrewsbury Crown Court (reported by the BBC). She was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

During the sentence hearing, Recorder Thomas told Mrs Wilcox that this case crossed the custody threshold and that there had been a significant breach of trust. He also stated that her “lack of remorse” meant the “only appropriate punishment” was one of immediate imprisonment. Recorder Thomas found that there was a starting point of 2 years imprisonment which was reduced to reflect her mitigation to 15 months, and thereafter allowed a 20 percent discount for her guilty plea.

Macmillan’s counter fraud manager, Robert Browell gave the following comments to the BBC following the sentence:

“It is of utmost importance that the public have confidence that the money they raise and donate is going to help people living with cancer, and we will continue to take action against any wrongdoing,” 

“We welcome [Wednesday’s] sentencing and hope it serves as a reminder that incidents of fraud, although rare, are taken extremely seriously.”

Ashley Fairbrother, Partner at Edmonds Marshall McMahon, says as follows: 

“This type of fraud has a considerable impact on the charity sector and prevents them from helping those that need their help during very difficult periods in their life. 

Every penny given to Macmillan has far reaching effects for those people that need Macmillan’s support. For example, £28 could pay for a Macmillan nurse for an hour. For every penny stolen, those people that need Macmillan’s help may not be able to receive it.

Suspicion caused by fraudulent charitable solicitation or misappropriation of funds has the effect of tainting the fund-raising appeals of legitimate charities, which suffer by association with those who defraud donors.”

This case illustrates a growing trend for private prosecutions to be brought by charities as state prosecutors continue to suffer from a lack of resources to investigate and prosecute fraud cases such as this.