The former treasurer of Huddersfield & District Football League has escaped a jail term after stealing more than £18,000 from the league’s bank and building society accounts.
Lewis Elliott, 24, of Sycamore Avenue, Alverthorpe, Wakefield, gambled the money away and also ordered shopping and takeaway food online.
Leeds Crown Court was told he stole the money over an 18-month period forging signatures and documents to cover up his crimes. On one day alone he stole £6,000.
His offending only came to light when he wrote to the league apologising for what he’d done and said he was seeking help for his gambling addiction.
Elliott admitted theft and was this week given a two-year suspended jail sentence and ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid work. A four-month curfew order was also imposed.
When Elliott made the admission in March 2021, league officials were left shocked at the breach of trust. The league was left with just £24 in one of their accounts. Later it was found cheques had bounced including a £200 hardship payment to a badly injured player.
The league had to seek an emergency loan from the Football Association to avert insolvency while it carried out an investigation.
Following the conclusion of the court hearing, league president Margaret Whitaker said the theft had hit the league and individual officials hard.
Mrs Whitaker said: “We were extremely disappointed to learn that someone we had trusted had betrayed us, our clubs and the players in our league.
“The league was left with £24 in the bank account and over £6,900 was gone from the building society account.
“It was both upsetting and embarrassing to hear that fingers were pointed at the officers of the league when the amount of money was revealed.
“Clubs naturally wanted answers which we were unable to provide, and we had to ask for an emergency loan from the FA for the league to carry on.
“Officers from the league had to take time off work to go to the bank and building society to change arrangements that Elliott had made to ensure that the little money we had left stayed where it was.
“This was very time consuming. The bank and building society were difficult to deal with and it was a very stressful time for us all.
“Elliott destroyed all of the league’s financial records and wiped his league laptop clean, so we were left with nothing.”
Mrs Whitaker said police were called in along with independent auditors.
“We had to ask the West Riding FA’s auditors to examine the financial affairs of the league to assess the damage done to the league’s funds and to make recommendations of how we could make sure that this didn’t happen again,” she said.
“The auditors were able to confirm the extent of our losses, confirmed that Elliott had acted alone and without any authority.
“The auditors confirmed that existing financial arrangements had been adequate but had been circumvented by Elliott using an unauthorised bank debit card and by using electronic copies of other officers’ signatures to make withdrawals.”
The league has now made extensive changes to its procedures to ensure nothing like that can happen again.
Mrs Whitaker added: “When Elliott submitted his letter admitting what he had done, he said that he was sorry. He said he would help in any way to sort things out and would make arrangements to pay the league back. He has not helped us and he has not paid a penny back.
“Since March 2021, officers and clubs have worked very hard to keep the league running during this traumatic time and have worked hard to get the league back on track.
“All loans, debts and bounced cheques have been cleared and a social and benevolent fund created.
“As the league enters the 125th anniversary of founding we will ensure that the league remains secure for the future.”
The league has a proud history and will mark its 125th anniversary with a special lunch in December at the John Smith’s Stadium.