A couple who stole tens of thousands of pounds intended for a community football club for children in Southport have been sentenced today (Thursday 10 March).
Michelle Marshall, 42 years, and Simon Marshall, 47 years, both of Alma Road, Birkdale, successfully bid for £75,000 that had previously been seized from criminals by police under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
But their only legitimate spending on the club as a result was around £5,000 spent on fencing. The changing facilities and other equipment promised was never bought, and when asked for evidence of ongoing work as part of routine checks on the progress of the projects, forged receipts were presented.
A full investigation was launched, and it was established a further £31,695.31 in subscription fees paid by parents and guardians of children who played football at the club between 1 December 2016 and 8 November 2019 was also unaccounted for.
The Marshalls were subsequently arrested in March 2020, and following extensive enquires they were charged in March 2021 with theft and fraud by abuse of position.
Appearing at Liverpool Crown Court today, Michelle Marshall was jailed for two-and-a-half years and Simon Marshall received a 15-month sentence, suspended for 18 months with a rehabilitation requirement. He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
Our Community Cashback Fund was set up to put money taken from criminals back into our communities, and it has helped create community gardens, helped keep boxing clubs open, community centres going and to educate young people about knife crime.
The fund is now being managed by an independent charity with extensive experience in managing the provision of funding. As part of regular reviews of the scheme, the application process now grants a maximum of £5,000 per project and has been enhanced with strict measures to monitor the development of projects and with improved checks in place to ensure all money given is spent correctly.
Detective Constable Louise Wright said: “The actions of the Marshalls was truly despicable. Parents and guardians of young children gave money in good faith for the development of their children's football skills. But the Marshalls selfishly spent that money on themselves – on holidays abroad, as well as shopping and rent.
“Cash that had been seized from criminals by the dedicated work of officers and staff here at Merseyside Police was provided to the Marshalls under a contract to provide a facility for young people in Southport. Instead, they brazenly spent that money on themselves, depriving the community of what could have been a brilliant facility after raising the hopes of so many people in Southport.
“The scale of their deceit was staggering. They ruthlessly exploited the keenness of parents to provide for their children, and lied to the police about their intentions to provide a useful community facility, all for their own financial gain.
“We welcome the fact that Michelle Marshall will now have time in prison to consider the impact her actions have had, and the disappointment and pain this fraud has caused so many people.
“I know the wider community will share our anger at the dishonesty both Michelle and Simon Marshall showed, and I hope are reassured that Merseyside Police conducted an extensive investigation in order to unearth all of their offending and bring them to justice today.”
Paul Mullan now helps run the club as joint club secretary alongside fellow club secretary Ben Minto and club chairman Alan McCoombe.
They invited the children and young people affected to help rename the club Southport Athletic, with a new club badge and kits, and the club has relocated to Ferryside Lane.
Paul said: “The Marshalls let 130 children, their families and the community down. It’s not fair, it’s not right and whatever sentence they received would not have fully reflected the damage they did and the people they affected.
“They raised hopes that young people would have a community facility that we were all looking forward to using.
“I’m so glad that we have been able to provide the 130 children affected with a new club, so that teams who have been together for years can stay together, and that we have been able to expand the club to include even more young people, with 180 now in our ranks.
“We have been able to find other sources of investment in order to provide new kits, equipment, clothing and even a defibrillator and am confident we will go from strength to strength, and one day create the facility we were promised.”
Det Con Wright added: “Our Community Cashback Fund uses the money and assets seized from criminals through the Proceeds of Crime Act and reinvests it back into communities to help provide vital resources and fund community projects across Merseyside.
“The overwhelming majority of recipients have done incredible things in the heart of communities across Merseyside, and the actions of the Marshalls have not dented our ambition to continue the scheme so that the money made by criminals can be put to very good use.
“It’s aim is to strengthen community resilience by supporting local clubs and groups, which in turn help to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, promote diversionary activities, and support vulnerable members of the community.
“In contrast to the selfish actions of the Marshalls, those other organisations that have benefited have extraordinarily selfless, community-spirited people at their heart and we look forward to helping them achieve their goals for years to come.”
“It is great to know that a new football club has emerged from the damage wrought by the Marshalls, under new stewardship and with a new name, so that young people in Southport once again have a place they can enjoy playing and developing their skills.”