A woman who raised £34,000 by claiming it was for the wildlife victims of the Australian bushfires gave just $20 to charity – and spent the rest treating herself to items like new hair extensions and a treadmill.
Kerry Palin, 27, who was living in Peterborough at the time, raised tens of thousands of pounds for wildlife charities after millions of animals were killed in bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia.
Despite raising more than £34,000, Palin donated just $20 (£10) to charity and spent the rest on luxury items for herself, including new hair extensions, a treadmill and a rug, in what police called an “appalling case of fraud”.
Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfire season saw more than 11 million hectares across the Australian southeast destroyed – an area of land equal to about half of the size of the UK.
In January 2020, as the fires were raging, Palin set up an equestrian-themed online auction on Facebook to raise funds for charities helping animals impacted by what conservationists now consider to be one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.
The page had more than 7,000 followers and more than 300 people donated goods to sell.
Cambridgeshire Police said people who bought items paid Palin directly and believed the money would be distributed to charity. Instead, Palin sent just $5 (£2.52) each to four charities and sent people doctored screenshots of the receipts, to make it look like more money had been paid.
If donors raised concerns, she would block them so they could no longer contact her, police said.
It was only amid mounting pressure from donors, and issues with her PayPal account, that Palin went to the police and admitted spending the money on luxuries for herself.
Palin later pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, concealing criminal property and acquiring criminal property.
She was sentenced to 16 months in prison at Peterborough Crown Court on 11 August.
Her partner David Collins, 39, pleaded guilty to acquiring criminal property after parcels at their home were found in his name. He was given a conditional discharge.
PC Dane said: “This was an appalling case of fraud where Palin not only deceived generous, kind-natured individuals, but deprived the wildlife victims of the wildfires of thousands of pounds in donations, which would have made a huge difference to their lives.
“Instead of helping the desperate victims of these horrific events, the money was spent on frivolous and unnecessary luxuries.
“I hope this goes to show how seriously we take these offences and I am glad justice has been done.
“I would urge anyone wanting to donate money to good causes to be vigilant and, if in doubt, consider giving directly to the charity itself.”