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Widow Debra Berger stole cash raised for Michael Sobell Hospice
A South Oxhey widow pocketed more than £2,000 raised by the community for the hospice that looked after her dying husband.
Debra Berger, of Heysham Drive, arranged fundraising events for the Michael Sobell Hospice, based at Mount Vernon Hospital, in pubs in the area and Northwood’s Nato base.
However, while people thought they were donating to the care of the terminally ill, Berger did not hand over the cash to the hospice.
The 52-year-old, who worked at Carillion, a cleaning company based at the Nato base, was found guilty on two charges of theft and two of intending to pervert the course of justice when she appeared at St Albans Crown Court yesterday.
Between June 3, 2011, and March 1, 2012, Berger stole £1,800 from Michael Sobell Hospice. She was also found guilty of stealing £500 from the same hospice between September 27, 2011, and January 21, 2012.
During the time the crimes were committed, the hospice needed to raise £1.2 million to help care for its patients with life-threatening illnesses.
Berger married her late husband Dave in 1984 and had three sons who are now in their 20s.
Mr Berger spent his final days at the Northwood hospice before passing away in September 2010.
The court heard Berger used to fundraise regularly for the hospice after her husband’s death.
The cleaning supervisor arranged for a team to participate in the hospice’s Ladies in the Night fundraiser in June 2011.
The group met at Berger’s home on the evening of the walk before travelling round nearby pubs with a collection bucket to gather donations.
Berger said a few days later she handed the bucket into the hospice, placing it on a desk in front of a member of staff, but denies ever being given a receipt for the donation.
Berger said: “I have never had a receipt from the day I walked into the hospice to hand over money from my husband’s funeral.”
Prosecuting barrister Philip Farr challenged Berger, stating she never handed the money into the hospice, adding: “I suggest after that [the Ladies in the Night event] you realised if you just kept quiet, maybe you could take the money from the cake sale too.”
The jury heard that Berger also arranged for a cake sale to take place at her workplace in September 2011.
Berger claimed the proceeds from the event were handed in by her colleague Graham Hobbs who she drove to the hospice and waited for in the car to deposit the money.
Berger said most of the £500 collected in the envelope consisted of pound coins and Mr Hobb must have been concealing these when he returned to the vehicle.
Mr Farr added: “It’s simply not true that you took Mr Hobbs to the hospice with the cake sale money.”
Mr Farr said that, according to Berger’s version of events, it is all “just a misunderstanding” and she is a “victim of circumstance”.
Mr Farr continued it was highly unlikely that such a “huge number” of unfortunate circumstances would have taken place.
Berger added: “It’s not unlikely, it’s horrifying.”
Berger said that Mr Hobbs went into the hospice with an envelope, adding: “As far as I was concerned the hospice had the money.”
In addition to two counts of theft, Berger was found guilty of doing an act intended to pervert the course of justice by writing a letter to her employers, Carillion, in which she stated co-worker Graham Hobbs was responsible for stealing the proceeds.
The final count on which the 12-person jury found Berger guilty was encouraging Beverley Waller, a friend and co-worker, to make a false and misleading statement to the police.
Berger is due to be sentenced next month.
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