A “despicable” fraudster who failed to hand over more than £20,000 raised for the son of murdered soldier Lee Rigby has been jailed.
Lorry driver Gary Gardner was told he will serve half of a two-and-a-half-year sentence in custody for two counts of fraud committed in the three years after the fusilier’s murder in 2013.
The 56-year-old lorry driver, who has previous convictions for theft and fraud dating back to 1980 and 1995, showed no emotion as he was told he had caused trauma to the soldier’s widow, Rebecca Rigby.
Gardner, of Old Holt Road, Medbourne, Leicestershire, was found guilty on Thursday after an eight-day trial was told he used some of the charity funds to “prop up” his overdrawn bank account.
Although Gardner paid around £4,000 to other charities after a series of high-profile fund-raising events, he failed to pay over a penny of a further £20,250 donated by the public to help Fusilier Rigby’s young son, Jack Rigby.
In a victim impact statement read into the court record before the sentencing, Lee Rigby’s widow Rebecca said she was disgusted at Gardner’s actions.
In the statement, she said the proceedings had placed her in a “daunting” emotional place and forced her to relive her attendance at the trial of her husband’s killers.
Mrs Rigby stated that a further trial was like reliving the earlier trial, adding: “I feel that this matter with Mr Gardner will draw the eyes of the world upon us again.
“I feel disgusted about Mr Gardner not making good his promises with regard to my son and abusing my family name.”
Jailing Gardner at Leicester Crown Court on Friday, Recorder Helen Malcolm QC told the HGV driver: “There has been an impact on every one of those who volunteered to assist you.
“Not one penny of the sums that you collected have been paid to Jack Rigby.
“Not only was the principal victim particularly vulnerable, there has been trauma to the family, particularly trauma to Rebecca Rigby, putting her through a second trial when she might quite reasonably have been left in peace.
“I accept all the evidence that you worked very hard. In your favour I accept that you did not set out with the intention to defraud.
“The fact remains that what you did was undoubtedly dishonest. I would say it was indeed despicable.”
The trial was told that Gardner put on truck-pull events in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Leicestershire villages of Medbourne and Market Harborough, and Stroud in Gloucestershire.
The events were attended by thousands of people, including Fusilier Rigby’s widow and son.