Black Isle charity Groam House slams sentence given to embezzler who brought it to its knees – and reveals plans for a positive bounce back
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A LEADING Ross-shire museum brought to its knees by the actions of an embezzler who secretly plundered thousands of pounds over three years has warned the "deeply disappointing" sentenced handed down "gives the very clear message that crime against charities does pay".
Bill Bound (75) of Ballyskelly House, Poyntzfield escaped a jail term and must only repay a fraction of the almost £19,000 he admitted stealing from Groam House Museum between November 2013 and October 2016.
Originally charged with embezzling £56,363 from the Rosemarkie centre of excellence for Pictish and Celtic art, he was ordered to repay just £2000 and carry out 180 hours of unpaid community work.
The trustees left to pick up the pieces yesterday spoke of the devastating impact on the museum and a positive plan of action to recover.
Chairman Doug Maclean said they were "deeply disappointed" in the sentencing of the former chair and treasurer which indicated "crime against charities does pay".
Bound joined the board in 2011 and took on all the key roles. Mr Maclean said: “He gets to keep the results of his dishonesty. He was charged with stealing close to £60,000, received a slap on the wrist in the form of paying back £2000 and doing 180 hours of unpaid work.
"Even more worrying is the total absence of any remorse from Bound; the only thing he admits to regretting is the disastrous effect on his own reputation."
Mr Maclean said that during Bound's tenure as chairman, standards of conduct deteriorated with board members voicing concerned at the lack of financial reports despite repeated requests to see the accounts. "Considerable discontent and disharmony" among the museum’s staff and volunteers resulting in many leaving the museum.
When the curator quit over irreconcilable differences with Bound, board members voted Bound out of office. Mr Maclean says it was after Bound returned laptops and the accounts were reviewed "that the fake invoices were uncovered, and the near-bankrupt state of the museum was revealed".
Staff couldn't be paid, shop stock could not be purchased and direct debits were being returned unpaid.
Bound's defence agent David Nicolson said he was left "ashamed" and "embarrassed" but accepted responsibility. He said: "It has been a major disaster for someone of his standing and stage of life."
While trustees remain angry at the turn of events and sentencing, they say great strides "were taken immediately to get back on firm financial footing".
The paid part-time employee had to reduce her hours, volunteers stepped up to the challenge and many who had left during Bound’s reign returned to help rebuild. A new treasurer implemented significant cost controls to ensure the museum could keep its doors open, and a fundraising team of volunteers was put in place to begin rebuilding finances.
Reconstited to a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation allowed for provisions to prevent any one person having such power as to hold positions as both chairman and treasurer. Significant financial reporting processes are in place.
The small independent museum has an annual turnover of around £35,000 a year and relies in part on financial support from Highland Council which has reduced its contribution. The impact of the Covid pandemic and reduced visitors to the area piled on the challenges.
The museum is not yet back to earlier visitor levels, with opening hours limited to just three hours daily. But its determination to keep doors open and admission free is "unbreakable".
Numerous fundraisers, including the Great Big Book Sale of used books and craft fairs with plans to bring high quality live music to the Black Isle "extremely well received".
The Upcycled and Vintage Market will be held in Fortrose Free Church on Saturday, June 10 with further events planned for summer. The possibility of exhibition-related craft workshops is being explored.
A determined, creative group of volunteers would welcome support as it looks to recover. Museum attendants, outreach volunteers, bakers, shop buyers, fundraisers, collections cataloguers, IT support and trustees are all wanted.
Call on 01381 620961 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.