Former newspaper entrepreneur Bill Alder has been spared a jail sentence for stealing from the Mid Kent Chamber of Commerce when he was chief executive of the organisation over four years ago.
A judge at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent decided on Wednesday that it would be “counter-productive after all these years” to put Alder, who whose ventures have included setting up the Milton Keynes Citizen and Aberdeen Independent behind bars.
The best way the community could be repaid for the criminality, he said, was to order 200 hours of unpaid work to be carried out.
The 56-year-old was also saved from repaying the cash he stole and footing the bill for court costs because he is unemployed and heavily in debt.
Alder, now of Spot Lane, Bearsted, near Maidstone had been facing charges covering the theft of around £24,000 from the Chamber, but his guilty plea to 11charges involving just £1,765 was accepted.
The court was told that he used a credit card given to him to pay for expenses for his own use, including sending flowers to an ex-girlfriend in the United States.
David Ross, prosecuting, said Alder was appointed chief executive in August 2000 on a salary of £20,000 a year, plus expenses.
He at first took his expenses from petty cash, but because it kept running out he was in May 2001 issued with a credit card with a £2,000 limit.
Mr Ross said it was made clear that the card was only to be used for business expenses and not for personal use.
Before being given the card, Alder’s expenses were about £200 a month. After it was issued, they soared to about £2,000 a month. In a 15-month period he spent £28,000 on the card.
He instructed staff that statements were only to be opened by him. There was also a suggestion he disguised usage of the card.
The prosecutor said matters came to a head in September 2002, when an auditor’s report showed the Chamber was making a loss and there appeared to be irregularities.
Alder took an overdose and resigned on September 23 that year.
“He then disappeared and it was not until August 26 2005 that he was arrested at Heathrow airport, having arrived on a flight from Canada,” said Mr Ross.
Alder told police that the reason his expenditure increased was that he had greatly increased the activities of the organisation though he admitted he used the card to some extent to fund his drinking habit.
Mr Ross said Alder had not repaid any of the money he stole. The Chamber had now merged with the
Francis Lloyd, defending, said Alder was appointed to do a job and he approached it in a particular way. “It was, perhaps, extravagant,” he said.
Judge Philip Statman commented : “Sending flowers to his partner in the United States is not going to attract business. It may attract good wishes over the pond, but not business.”
Mr Lloyd said Alder spent the cash “somewhat recklessly”. He said Alder had fled to Canada and stayed with his mother. He returned of his own free will.
Judge Statman told Alder that if he had pleaded guilty to the full extent of the original indictment, he would have had no alternative but to send him to prison for a substantial period.
But the reality was that the dishonesty over 10 months amounted to £1,765.
“More than anyone else in the community you knew how much the Chamber was suffering and struggling economically and you had been employed to sort it out,” he said.
“The sadness of this is you were successful in what you were doing. Then, you go and ruin it with this case of dishonesty. Also, you were in a position of trust when you did it.
“Now, at the age of 56, you face the possibility of being sent to prison.”
Judge Statman added: “You are a talented individual. All this happened a very long time ago indeed.”
He said the reason he was imposing a community penalty was because Alder had the good sense to plead guilty.
The judge warned: “There will be no excuses. You will go off and do this unpaid work and if you don’t do it to the appropriate standard you will be brought back before me and I will send you to prison without hesitation.
“I am quietly confident that is not going to occur.”
Maidstone Chamber of Commerce stopped trading in 2003 after plunging into the red by nearly £50,000.