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1 March 2011, 13:17
A woman who conned her friends and employers into believing she was dying of cervical cancer was spared a jail sentence today.
Caroline Bull, 38, of Amo Mews, Worthing, West Sussex, pocketed £8,537 in sick leave and raised £4,500 that was supposed to go to charity under the pretence that she had months to live.
She even discussed her own funeral and convinced friends to get matching tattoos in a display of support.
Hove Crown Court heard she deceived friends and family over a two-year period. She was later diagnosed with clinical depression, after the offences had been committed.
Outlining the case, prosecutor Gareth Burrows said: ``Caroline Bull registered with a cancer agency in 2008, and she registered with that agency under the pretence that she had cervical cancer and was intending to raise funds for Cancer Research.
``In fact she did not have cancer and all the funds that she raised through various fundraising nights was not received by Cancer Research.''
He said Bull told her friend Gemma Radley, who worked in a hair salon, that she had five months to live.
Ms Radley helped her organise a fundraising day where the premises were decked out in pink and customers were encouraged to put money in charity boxes.
A statement from Ms Radley was read out in court in which she said she ``could not understand how someone could lie about cancer''.
It went on: ``I just feel like I've been crying for two years as I've been looking after her. I can't believe she betrayed me so much.''
She added that it had left her in fear of losing her own job as the hair salon had been involved in raising the money.
Bull also organised a fundraising night at a nightclub, Madame Geisha, which involved two raffles, staff from the salon doing hairstyling, a band, a magician and numerous charity buckets, the court heard.
Mr Burrows continued: ``It's not clear where that money went. But what is clear is that this defendant did not have cancer and all these efforts were made under the false pretence that she did.''
The court heard that a number of her friends got matching tattoos with the words ``see you on the other side'' to show their support for Bull.
``All of these friends talked about how she would speak to them about the fact she was feeling ill,'' Mr Burrows said. She even discussed her funeral arrangements and told them what she wanted them to wear for it, he added.
The court heard that Bull had pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud by false representation and one of theft, which related to her receiving the sick pay from her employers, H&R Healthcare, between October 2008 and May 2009.
However she denied a third charge of theft from Cancer Research UK, which is to be left on file.
Kriston Berlevy, for the defence, said ``a more upsetting and unpleasant set of circumstances would be difficult to imagine''.
He said Bull had no previous convictions and an ``exemplary'' work record while her motive behind the offences remained unclear.
He said the defendant had always maintained that she had never stolen from the cancer charity and did not set out to be dishonest.
It appeared she had convinced herself she was suffering from the illness but was too scared to seek medical help, he said.
``She has consistently stated that she genuinely believed she was terminally ill when it all began.
``It appears from psychiatric reports that she found herself in a position where she couldn't stop the wheel from turning.''
He added that psychiatric assessments had also suggested she could have been influenced by the real-life situation of a celebrity who was suffering from cervical cancer, which was extensively reported in the media at the time.
Dressed in a khaki green anorak, Bull wept as she was sentenced to do 200 hours of unpaid work in the community.
Judge Anthony Niblett said: ``By your pleas you accept stealing from your employers the sum of £8,500 and fraud by false representation on a number of your friends.
``These offences, you must realise, represent a betrayal of trust placed in you by your employers who your counsel said were gracious and generous to you, and you betrayed the trust of your friends.
``Your employers and friends believed in your assertions that you were suffering from terminal cancer. They must be asking why it was that you committed such a dreadful offence against them.
``This is simply because at the relevant time you were mentally ill. You were suffering from clinical depression which was not diagnosed until after these offences had been committed.''
Following the sentencing, Detective Constable Leon Ryan of Sussex Police said: ``People donated money in good faith, moved through compassion for a friend they believed was in pain and suffering.
``Bull's deception saw no end and she took full advantage of the trust and kindness of her friends and employer, even asking friends to have a tattoo 'in her memory'.
``It is right and just that Bull be held accountable for her actions and I hope now those affected by her crime can now move on.''