Football league’s fraud nightmare

PRISON SENTENCE: Disgraced Michael Hooper
PRISON SENTENCE: Disgraced Michael Hooper

The junior football league at the centre of a £35,000 fraud by their treasurer has told how it had been ‘let down’ by the disgraced former colleague.

Bosses at the Mid Lancs Colts Junior Football League were speaking after Michael Hooper, 43, of Seven Stars Road, Leyland, was jailed for 20 months after pleading guilty to stealing £36,399 from their accounts.

Hooper had worked for the league, which is run for seven to 10-year-olds, as a volunteer.

League secretary Ian Christopher said: “The conviction and sentencing of Mr Hooper brought to an end a very difficult period for all concerned.

“The members of the committee and club members feel very let down by the actions of Mr Hooper, who was a trusted member of the committee.

“His actions came close to undermining all the good work that is done by an army of volunteers who strive to ensure that the children are afforded the opportunity to play football in a structured and safe environment.”

Preston Crown Court heard on Friday how Hooper he had breached his position of trust by stealing cash and forging cheques from the league’s accounts over a period of six years.

Father-of-three Hooper was in dire financial difficulties, the court heard.

Prosecuting, Joseph Allman said: “Each year certain members received an £80 honoraria payment.

“As treasurer he had access to the league accounts and was able to sign cheques as long as they were countersigned by another member.

“In January the league secretary became concerned because the honorarians had not been paid and asked the defendant to produce the accounts for the year.

“On January 24 he produced some but not all of the financial documents.

“At that stage, he said he was too ill to get the remainder from his attic, where he stored them.

“On January 25 the secretary convened an emergency meeting and a letter was sent to the defendant.

“On February 1 the defendant resigned citing ill health.

“The defendant’s sons delivered the rest of the paperwork but there was obviously a number of discrepancies between those and the accounts.”

The court heard Hooper was arrested and interviewed in April. He said he was being pursued by debt collectors. He accepted he had forged the countersigned signatures on some cheques.

Defending, Miss Julie Taylor said Hooper “succumbed to temptation.”

She said his family had hit severe financial difficulties after returning to the UK when he lost his job in America.

He obtained employment at Leyland Trucks but the financial situation became worse and he and his wife split up.

She said: “When he took the position, it was through a desire to assist, it was not a cynical taking of the position intending to steal.

“What he found himself doing was effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“He was borrowing money from the league then when he received his salary he would pay it back.

“However, matters escalated and got to the stage where he couldn’t afford to pay it back.

“It was not going on a luxury lifestyle. It was going into the family pot.”

Hooper’s estranged wife and eldest son were in the public gallery as he was sentenced.