Hughes, who ran Hughes Race Nights and Hughes Casinos and Race Night, used a variety of trading names. He misled the landlords of pubs across the country into believing that a significant proportion of the money raised on ‘charity race nights’ was being donated to well-known national charities, when this was not the case.
Following concerns raised by a vigilant pub landlord about Hughes’s activities, Trading Standards Investigators raided his business premises in Barbauld Street, Warrington in August 2019, where extensive business records were seized.
Investigating officers painstakingly analysed these records and were able to show he obtained in excess of £1.4m from at least 4,380 ‘race nights’ he arranged in pubs across England and Wales between 2015 and 2019.
Working closely with six national cancer charities and one Alzheimer’s charity, investigators were able to piece together the extent of his dishonesty when they identified that he had only donated £17,469 to these charities and some donations only occurred after Hughes realised trading standards were investigating him.
As the investigation progressed, it became clear that Hughes had misled charity after charity about his business practices. Investigators discovered a pattern of him moving on to the next charity once questions were raised by the current charity. In some cases, he continued to fraudulently raise funds in a charity’s name despite fundraising agreements being terminated and warnings being issued for him to stop.
Hughes used posters, fundraising certificates and race cards to convince publicans to host the charity race nights but failed to fully disclose just how much of the funds raised he retained to run his business and how little he passed on to the charities.
Hughes pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court, on the second day of a four-week trial, to one offence of running a fraudulent business contrary to the Fraud Act 2006. It was accepted that after ‘reasonable costs of the business are deducted’ he caused a loss in the region of £350,000 to the Charities.
In sentencing Hughes to five years in prison, His Hon Judge Byrne said his actions were a ‘wicked and sustained course of dishonesty’ and that ‘it was a sophisticated and well-planned operation’ where ‘the public were deceived and charities’ reputations damaged’.
His Honour also disqualified Hughes from being involved in the running of a company or acting as a director for eight years. He further commented on the harm Hughes’s actions had caused to the charities by ‘undermining legitimate fundraising’ and the impact he had on donations for life saving work.
Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet member for public protection, Cllr Hitesh, said: “Charities now more than ever rely on our donations, and this crime has caused real damage, over a long period of time, to a large number of victims.
“Mr Hughes’ fraudulent behaviour has led to significant financial losses sustained by the charities, undermined the trust in fund-raising activities and abused the good will of pub landlords across the country. In addition, he has repeatedly misled people attending these events who thought that they were raising money for good causes. For many of these people, it was a cause that was close to their hearts.
“I’m grateful to our Trading Standards team for their meticulous work on this case, along with the charities involved for their support, which has allowed these investigations to proceed and to bring this matter before the courts.
“I would ask everyone to be vigilant when giving to charity and to ensure you’re confident that your donation will go to the charity of your choice. If in doubt, donate directly through well-established fundraising platforms or via a charity shop.”