Heathfield dad’s sentence ‘deserved’

Ashanti Elliott-Smith
Ashanti Elliott-Smith

A Heathfield father who was jailed for stealing charity money from a fund set up for his terminally ill daughter deserved every day of his sentence, top judges have ruled.

Albi Elliott, of Threeways Cottage, Vines Cross, was jailed for stealing £3,500 charity money intended to be spent taking his terminally ill daughter swimming with dolphins.

Instead of spending the donated cash on his child, Ashanti, who has a premature ageing disease, Albi Elliott plundered the charity fund for his own purposes.

In June last year, he was found guilty of fraud and jailed for three years at Chichester Crown Court – but had taken his case to the Court of Appeal in a bid for a cut in the sentence.

But after hearing the full details of the case, appeal judges Lord Justice Fulford, Mr Justice Walker and Mr Justice Flaux said the 45-year-old dad deserved everything he got. Mr Justice Walker said: “His offence involved a thorough and gross abuse of trust.”

The court heard the cash was donated by the Sussex British Motorcycle Owners’ Club, which had made Ashanti’s case their fundraising choice of the year in 2010. It was handed over in cheque form and listed to be payable to ‘A Elliott’. But the money went instead into an account held by her father, of Threeways Cottage, Vines Cross. Records showed extensive card payments and cash withdrawals from Elliott’s account.

When arrested, he claimed he had withdrawn the money as he thought it might affect his benefit entitlement and had stashed it somewhere. However, the jury did not believe him and he was convicted last summer.

Lawyers for the dad argued the three-year sentence was too tough.

It was much longer than in other cases of fraud and did not take fully into account his personal mitigation.

In particular, the crown court judge had not taken account of the fact that Ashanti was 11 at the time of trial and likely to be in her final years. Elliott, who had been an active part of her life, had been unable to see her in the seven months since he was jailed, the judges were told.

Refusing the appeal, Mr Justice Walker said: “Betrayal of the trust of his own young daughter called for a severe sentence. So did the betrayal of the trust of other family members and friends. So did the betrayal of the trust of the motorcycle association. The consequences of his offending damaging public confidence in those who seek money for charitable causes called for a severe sentence. The sentence of three years’ imprisonment fully allowed for Elliott’s personal mitigation.”