A nanny who splashed tens of thousands of pounds in donations linked to a Black Lives Matter demonstration on her own lifestyle, including almost £6,000 on Uber rides and food deliveries, has been jailed for two and a half years.
Xahra Saleem, 23, had set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Covid personal protective equipment, before the landmark march in Bristol that saw the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue on 7 June 2020. Following the publicity around the march, donations soared, and £32,344 was raised.
Left-over money was then intended to go to a city-based youth company, called Changing Your Mindset, of which she was appointed director. Trust was placed in Saleem as she co-organised the demonstration and was a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, Saleem moved the money into a newly opened personal account and went on a 15-month spending spree on “lifestyle expenses”, said Mr Alistair Haggerty, prosecuting at the sentencing hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday.
With no other regular income or wage coming into the account, she made 2,512 payments, including amounts on an iPhone, iMac, hair and beauty treatments, clothing stores, Amazon purchases, food takeaways and more than £5,800 on Uber, said Mr Haggerty.
She later confessed to a friend in a WhatsApp message that she had done “something horrendous”, adding “my brain spent it [the money]. I couldn’t tell on what, where or why.”.
The company, meanwhile, repeatedly asked Saleem for the money, but was repeatedly fobbed off, with excuses including problems dealing with GoFundMe and stays in hospital, said Mr Haggerty.
Bosses at the organisation finally sent her an ultimatum to transfer the cash in June 2021. She responded in an email saying she had spent it, said Mr Haggerty.
The email read: “I am so sorry, I am still trying to understand my actions as well,” said Mr Haggerty.
The loss in funds resulted in the cancellation of a planned educational trip to Africa and the eventual closure of the organisation.
Saleem, of Briars Walk, Romford, had denied a charge of fraud by abuse of position between 23 June 2020 and 30 September 2021 when she appeared at Bristol Magistrates’ Court in January, but in September, she pleaded guilty to the charge.
Appearing at Bristol Crown Court, Saleem, who was wearing a hijab, was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment.
Judge Michael Longman said: “You did not set out to defraud anyone, but you took the opportunity when you had control of the company’s money to spend it on your own expenses.”
The case brings to a close two years of turmoil for the leaders of Changing Your Mindset, who had high hopes for the good work they were going to be able to do with their windfall.
The cash was set to secure the future of the group providing support to people aged between 18 and 24 through weekly sessions, with cookery classes, career advice and life coaching.
And when bosses saw the amount raised surge, plans were put in motion to provide an educational visit to Ghana. The young people to go were chosen and asked to start preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime trip.
A charity spokesperson told The Independent: “We were led on a journey of deceit which was full of lies and left us having to clear our own names and stop the group sessions.”
Mr Tom Edwards, defending, said Saleem had spent the money “carelessly, foolishly and unwisely rather than deliberately intending to steal”.
He said some of the items purchased, including the computer and taxi rides, were connected to Saleem’s role as director of the youth charity. But he added: “She had bitten off more than she could chew.” He apologised to the charity on her behalf.
Saleem had faced two charges of fraud, with the second relating to another online fundraising page that was set up after the toppling of the statue to help people arrested with legal fees. This charge has been allowed to lie on file.
The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol received huge support, and when thousands joined and the statue of Edward Colston was dumped, it gained world-wide attention. The coverage appeared to help the Go Fund Me page, which had been expected to make a few hundred pounds.