'Lowest of the low' fraudsters posed as charity cash collector at Blackpool bars

The North West Air Ambulance bucket
The North West Air Ambulance bucket

A conman who posed as a charity collector has been branded the ‘lowest of the low’.

Derek Snelson was a regular sight among pub and club goers in Blackpool, shaking a bucket in aid of the North West Air Ambulance.

But it turned out he never gave a penny to the charity.

Snelson, 48, of Branstree Road, Mereside, last week pleaded guilty to fraud by making a false representation, having claimed donations would be going to the North West Air Ambulance charity between March 2014 and May last year.

He also admitted possessing a North West Air Ambulance collection bucket for use in fraud.

Snelson was stopped by Blackpool Council officers as he collected in Queen Street on May 28 last year. He was dressed in a yellow Air Ambulance T-shirt and carrying a yellow donations bucket with the charity’s name on it.

When asked if he was a genuine charity collector he produced a letter from the North West Air Ambulance but it related to a sponsored cycle ride. The officer asked for the bucket and paperwork and Snelson handed them over. Checks showed Snelson was known to the charity but he had never made any donations.

Several venues in the Queen Street area said they had seen Snelson purportedly collecting for the air ambulance for several years.

The manager of one bar told officers Snelson had collected for the charity at the venue most weekends for two-and-half years. The manager added that he often felt the weight of Snelson’s collection bucket and it was heavy.

His actions were today condemned by council chiefs and charity bosses.

Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Falsely claiming to collect money for charity and then keeping it for yourself really is the lowest of the low.

“Residents and visitors to Blackpool are kind people who give money in good faith to support a very good cause in the air ambulance service, so to abuse that good nature is simply unacceptable.”

Jenny Haskey, head of fundraising at the North West Air Ambulance, said: “As a charity reliant on donations to maintain our lifesaving service, we are deeply saddened that somebody would take advantage of the generosity of our supporters for their own gains. We would like to stress that this is an extremely rare case. Anybody who collects donations on our behalf will always carry photographic ID and will endeavour to clearly explain the donations process.”

Snelson was bailed to appear for sentence on March 1 at Preston Crown Court by Blackpool magistrates.