Hunt master took £84,000 from Devon countryside clubs
April 28, 2017
A Devon hunt master has admitted stealing £84,000 while acting as treasurer for two country sports clubs.
Graeme Holmes, 59, took the cash while in charge of the purse strings of the Eggesford Hunt Supporters’ Club and the Sid and Otter Riding Club.
He defrauded both clubs of funds for almost a decade and used the money to keep up his image as a pillar of the local rural community. The successful IT salesman was a joint leader of the hunt, kept a stable of horses and bought a large house near Lapford.
But Judge Geoffrey Mercer QC told him his reputation now lay in tatters.
He added: “What you did as I see it was very dishonest and it isn’t clear to me why it was necessary to do it at all frankly. But it was a gross breach of trust. You treated money and funds of these organisations of which you were the treasurer as if they were your own and you’ve been caught."
Holmes pleaded guilty to abusing his position as treasurer of the Eggesford Hunt Supporters’ Club between January 15, 2007 and April 15, 2016. He also admitted the same offence against the Sid and Otter Valley Riding Club between August 26, 2008 and April 8, 2016.
He has since paid all the money back.
Prosecutor William Hunter said Holmes had volunteered to take up the role of hunt treasurer in 2004. He job was to hand the cash to the bank and bank cheques, among other duties.
But when suspicions were raised the club checked the account and found almost £48,000 missing, leaving them with just £580.
Holmes had been a member of the riding club since 2006 and took the treasurer role in 2008.
He had control of the debit card which he used to draw money for himself and had cheques made out to him. The club expected to find £30,000 in its account but when it checked the figure was much less. Holmes admitted taking £36,000 for himself.
Richard Crabb, mitigating, said: “He is a man of previous good character who used about £84,000 of hunt funds for his own purposes. Every penny has now been paid back."
He said Holmes was a man who earned a lot of money as an IT sales team leader in the Home Counties. He moved to Lapford with his wife and bought a large house ‘that needed a lot of work’.
“He became part and parcel of the local equestrian scene and lived beyond his means."
He hunted on a regular basis and was regarded as a ‘pillar of the community’. When the post of treasurer came up the club ‘considered his trappings of wealth and thought he was a very successful man’ and was delighted to have him.
But he estimated that he lived beyond his means by £8,000 a year.
Mr Crabb said there had been a backlash in the local community against Holmes after what he had done.
Holmes had cashed-in his pension to pay the money back but was not left with a large tax bill.
Judge Mercer said he was lucky the Conservative government had changed the law to allow pension pots to be cashed in early.
“The amount of money is substantial," said the judge. “Your saving grace is that you have been able to pay back the money you took and it’s fully repaid."
Holmes was sentenced to 20 months in jail, suspended for 18 months. He must do 150 hours unpaid work and pay costs of £550.
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