A former employee who abused her position at a not-for-profit social club to steal thousands of pounds has been convicted at court.

Jeanette Gardner was an administrator for Hailsham Memorial Institute (HMI) – a club established in 1920 in memory of a local soldier who lost his life during the First World War.

She was appointed the paid role of administrator in 2006 and engineered absolute financial control of the club. However in 2019, club members became concerned about Gardner’s actions when they failed to receive confirmation of receipt of funds raised at a ‘Full Monty’ charity event held by HMI in aid of Orchid Cancer Charity.

After an internal investigation conducted by HMI, Gardner was dismissed from her role in August 2019. The matter was then reported to Sussex Police.

A three-year investigation ensued which uncovered large scale frauds, thefts, and abuse of position offences.

The investigation found Gardner had stolen from HMI and made fraudulent claims against the club. These included falsifying her employment contracts to pay herself a higher salary, giving herself pay rises without authorisation, withholding payments to HMRC, false accounting, and laundering £26,000 of the stolen money out of the country to India.  

She falsified weekly accounts to steal cash from the social club and would often include personal purchases in receipts claimed back from the club. Payments were also received into her bank account for events and services provided by HMI. 

Gardner failed to pass on money raised at HMI fundraising events to charities, including approximately £3,000 to the male cancer charity Orchid. 

When asked to account for the money that was raised, Gardner insisted she’d made the payment but could not find the receipts to prove it. When confronted by the members she tried to falsify the receipts and staged a fake discovery of the “lost” cash to cover her tracks. 

During the investigation, Gardner also brazenly made fraudulent claims for Universal Credit which were uncovered by police.

The investigation resulted in 64-year-old Gardner, of Meadow Road, Hailsham, being charged with 11 offences.

Her trial began on 18 September 2023 at Hove Crown Court. During trial, she pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position but maintained her innocence in relation to all the other charges.

On Friday 20 October, Gardner was found guilty of eight of the 11 charges against her – four counts of fraud by abuse of position; fraud by false representation; theft; transferring criminal property; and fraud by failing to disclose information.

She was found not guilty of three charges – two counts of fraud by abuse of position; and one count of theft.

Gardner has been released on court bail ahead of sentencing on 1 December.

Investigator George Shannon said: “Jeanette Gardner was trusted with managing all aspects of the club’s finances but abused that trust to manipulate the figures for her own personal gain over many years.

“The exact amount of money taken from the club is not clear due to a lack of paperwork and receipts kept by Gardner, however it is believed to be in excess of £100,000.

“When discrepancies started to come to light and Gardner was confronted, she denied all wrongdoing and continued to maintain her innocence right up to and during her trial.

“Thanks to the diligence of other members at the Hailsham Memorial Institute and an extensive and thorough investigation by police, she has now been held accountable for her actions.

“HMI is an historic club that plays a key role in the local community. The money lost through Gardner’s systematic and despicable behaviour nearly resulted in its closure but thankfully she has been caught, and the club can now continue to thrive under its new stewardship.”