Woman who stole £70k from Colston Statue fundraisers ordered to repay just £1

A woman jailed for stealing and spending money from online fundraisers she set up in the wake of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol four years ago took around £70,000 in total, say police.
Xahra Saleem was jailed for two-and-a-half years last October after pleading guilty to one count of fraud. Credit: BPM Media

A woman who stole money from online fundraisers, set up after the toppling of Edward Colston's statue in Bristol four years ago, took around £70,000 in total, police say.Now "penniless", a court has ordered Xahra Saleem to pay back a nominal amount of £1.Police have obtained a Confiscation Order under the Proceeds of Crime Act against Saleem, who was jailed for two-and-a-half years last October after pleading guilty to one count of fraud.The 23-year-old spent all the money she stole in less than a year - splashing out on Ubers, beauty treatments, clothes, takeaway food deliveries and phones.

Police have had to obtain the order with a nominal £1 sum, which allows that amount to increase if Saleem ever has more money in the future.

Protesters throw a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

The cash was pledged by people across the world in a series of online fundraisers that were set up by Saleem - who was then called Yvonne Maina.

They were set up both before and after the Black Lives Matter march in Bristol in June 2020.

However, instead of going to the good causes people donated towards, Saleem frittered the money away in less than a year on a wide range of expenses and living costs.She pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud last year. The court heard that around £32,000 went missing from the first online fundraiser she set up.

Another charge was left to lie on file by the CPS and now, for the first time, police have put the total amount of money she is believed to have taken and spent at around £70,000.

Saleem was one of five young people who organised the Black Lives Matter march on June 7, 2020 Credit: BPM Media

Police and the courts will often issue Confiscation Orders to criminals who have profited from their crimes.

That order will contain a specific sum which police know the criminal will be able to pay if they sell their assets.

The order for Saleem is for a nominal sum of £1, simply because Saleem has none of the money left and no assets of her own that could contribute to it.She was among five young people who organised the Black Lives Matter march on June 7, 2020 that saw the statue of Edward Colston toppled.

Before the march she was the one who set up an online fundraiser to help pay for Covid mitigation measures and other organising expenses.

On the morning of the march, barely a few hundred pounds had been raised.During the Black Lives Matter march, a large crowd pulled down the statue of Bristol slavetrader Edward Colston - an event that was seen around the world.

People from across the globe flocked to show their support for the act, went online and found the fundraiser Saleem had set up around a week beforehand.Donations flooded in and soon it passed £32,000 - all of which was supposed to be handed over to a local youth organisation based in St Paul’s, called Changing Your Mindset.

The empty plinth where the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston stood before it was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protestors Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

For months, they talked about how best to spend it, and decided to take their young people on the trip of a lifetime to Africa.In the days after the protest, Saleem set up a second online fundraiser which she said would be money to support the legal costs of anyone arrested or charged in connection with the toppling of the statue.

That raised tens of thousands of pounds too, which it is understood also went missing, and never reached those who were arrested.Six people accepted police cautions for their part in the Colston statue toppling, while four others pleaded not guilty, went through a lengthy legal process and were eventually acquitted of criminal damage.

Other organisations did their own fundraising for the people who became known as the Colston Four separately.

Now, police say she could well have pocketed and spent up to £70,000 from both fundraisers.

DC Anthony Davis said: “Xahra Saleem admitted to defrauding a charity of a significant sum of money and received a custodial sentence for it last year.""She made the conscious decision to take the money for herself, when it should have gone to young people in east Bristol.

"Blameless individuals who supported the charity were left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of this serious fraud."They were put in an incredibly difficult position of trying to answer questions about Saleem’s offending when they had done nothing wrong and were left devastated by what occurred.“In total it has been calculated Saleem benefitted to the value of approximately £70,000. Nobody should profit from criminality and that’s why we have taken proactive action under the Proceeds of Crime Act,” he said.

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