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A race night organiser raised more than £1m for charities doing race nights at pubs – and then kept the money for himself.

Nicholas Hughes, 38, tricked pub landlords into thinking the money raised at his events was being donated to popular national charities.

Through his business he held thousands of events across the country, raking in more than £1.4 million – but less than £20,000 of that was actually donated to charities.

He was eventually caught when a vigilant pub landlord raised concerns about him, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Trading Standards Investigators raided his business premises in Barbauld Street, Warrington, where extensive business records were seized.

The records showed Hughes’s business had raised more than £1.4m from at least 4,380 ‘race nights’ he arranged in pubs across England and Wales between 2015 and 2019.

Working together with six national cancer charities and one Alzheimer’s charity, investigators worked out that only £17,469 was donated to the charities.

Some of the donations only happened after Hughes realised trading standards were onto him.

Investigators found a pattern of him moving on to the next charity once questions were raised by the last.

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 pub landlords 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.

On the second day of a four-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, Hughes – who used a variety of trading names – pleaded guilty 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.

Sentencing Hughes to five years in prison, His Hon Judge Byrne described his actions as a ‘wicked and sustained course of dishonesty’, adding that ‘it was a sophisticated and well-planned operation’ where ‘the public were deceived and charities’ reputations damaged’.

Hughes was also banned from being involved in the running of a company or acting as a director for eight years.

The judge told Hughes his actions had ‘undermined legitimate fundraising’.

Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet member for public protection, Hitesh Patel, 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.”