Michelle and Simon Marshall were given a £75,000 grant from Merseyside police as directors of Phoenix Football Youth Club and accrued a further £31,000 in subscription fees paid by parents.
However, their only legitimate spending on the club was around £5,000 on fencing.
The couple, of Alma Road, Birkdale, blew the rest on holidays abroad, shopping and rent.
Appearing at Liverpool Crown Court on Thursday, Michelle Marshall was jailed for two-and-a-half years and Simon Marshall received a 15-month sentence, suspended for 18 months with a rehabilitation requirement. He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
Detective Constable Louise Wright said: “The scale of their deceit was staggering. They ruthlessly exploited the keenness of parents to provide for their children, and lied to the police about their intentions to provide a useful community facility, all for their own financial gain.”
Funding and fraud
The Marshalls were awarded a £75,000 grant in 2017 from Merseyside Police’s Community Cashback Fund, which was set up to put money taken from criminals back into communities.
The plan was to transform the community club, but changing facilities and other equipment promised were never bought.
When the couple was asked for evidence of ongoing work as part of routine checks on the progress of the projects, forged receipts were presented.
A full investigation was launched, and it was established a further £31,695.31 in subscription fees paid by parents and guardians of children who played football at the club between 1 December 2016 and 8 November 2019 was also unaccounted for.
The Marshalls were subsequently arrested in March 2020, and following extensive enquires they were charged in March 2021 with theft and fraud by abuse of position.
What’s been said
“The actions of the Marshalls was truly despicable,” said DC Wright.
“Parents and guardians of young children gave money in good faith for the development of their children’s football skills. But the Marshalls selfishly spent that money on themselves – on holidays abroad, as well as shopping and rent.
“Cash that had been seized from criminals by the dedicated work of officers and staff here at Merseyside Police was provided to the Marshalls under a contract to provide a facility for young people in Southport.
“Instead, they brazenly spent that money on themselves, depriving the community of what could have been a brilliant facility after raising the hopes of so many people in Southport.
“We welcome the fact that Michelle Marshall will now have time in prison to consider the impact her actions have had, and the disappointment and pain this fraud has caused so many people.
Phoenix reborn as Southport Athletic
Paul Mullan now helps run the club as joint club secretary alongside fellow club secretary Ben Minto and club chairman Alan McCoombe.
They invited the children and young people affected to help rename the club Southport Athletic, with a new club badge and kits, and the club has relocated to Ferryside Lane.
Mr Mullan said: “The Marshalls let 130 children, their families and the community down. It’s not fair, it’s not right and whatever sentence they received would not have fully reflected the damage they did and the people they affected.
“They raised hopes that young people would have a community facility that we were all looking forward to using.“We have been able to expand the club to include even more young people, with 180 now in our ranks.
“We have been able to find other sources of investment in order to provide new kits, equipment, clothing and even a defibrillator and am confident we will go from strength to strength, and one day create the facility we were promised.”