Jail for fraudster who kept charity funds after Black Lives Matter protest

Xahra Saleem, of Romford, east London, had pleaded guilty to fraud by abusing her position as director of a company.

Helen William
Tuesday 31 October 2023 18:04 GMT
Black Lives Matter (BLM) organiser Xahra Saleem leaves Bristol Magistrates’ Court (Ben Birchall/PA)
Black Lives Matter (BLM) organiser Xahra Saleem leaves Bristol Magistrates’ Court (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Archive)

An organiser of a Black Lives Matter protest who used tens of thousands of pounds in donations from a fundraising page to back her expensive lifestyle has been jailed for two and a half years.

Xahra Saleem, now aged 23, gained a high public profile as one of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) marchers in Bristol, in 2020, which was a response to the murder of black man George Floyd by police in the US.

Saleem, of Romford, east London, previously pleaded guilty to fraud by abusing her position as director of Changing Your Mindset Ltd, by transferring monies to her personal bank accounts and then spending it between June 2020 and September 2021.

Judge Michael Longman, sentencing at Bristol Crown Court, said Saleem had gained a high public profile from her BLM involvement and she had used it, with the help of others, to raise money to try to support young people in the St Paul’s area of Bristol.

The judge told Saleem this was “a worthwhile cause but that money you then used not for their benefit but for your own, funding a lifestyle for yourself that you could not otherwise have afforded”.

The prosecution said that, in the 15 months to September 2021, there were more than 2,500 payments made from Saleem’s account which included standard living expenses such as general shopping and bills, plus a new iPhone, hair and beauty appointments, clothes stores, Amazon purchases, taxis and takeaways.

The court heard that Saleem appeared to be devoted to the cause and someone who could be trusted and she came into contact with community worker Rebecca Scott who helped her set up the BLM march.

The judge said Saleem then “in gratitude” offered to set up a fundraising page, which went live in 2020, with the money raised being earmarked for projects to help the young in St Paul’s.

The page was set up around the time of the demonstration in Bristol that ended with a statue of Edward Colston being toppled into the city’s harbour.

A youth organisation called Changing Your Mindset Ltd was set up which “plainly had a charitable purpose”, the judge added.

Saleem became a director, along with others who were already active in the St Paul’s community, but setting up a business account as intended at the point was difficult.

The judge said: “The amount raised exceeded expectations by a significant margin and raised over £32,000.

“In the absence of a business account to pay the money into, the decision was made to pay it into your own account as an interim measure.

“The others involved in the project trusted you to hold the funds securely until a better arrangement could be made.

“Eventually such an account was set up in April 2021.

“There should have been no reason why the money could not be transferred into that account but problems became apparent.

“The money was not transferred and you made excuses for that failure.”

Earlier the prosecution had said that Saleem transferred several hundred pounds into the account of a relative in July 2020 with the reference “Fred, hold  it for me please” and added “from that point onwards the floodgates opened and the defendant used the money freely with no funds being credited to the account to cover the shortfall”.

Saleem eventually admitted the money had gone but put forward contradictory excuses as to why, the court heard.

She also offered to report herself to the police, but did not do that.

The court heard that, in June 2021, it was found that Saleem had discussed the fraud over WhatsApp with a friend telling them: “I have done something horrendous, you can’t tell anyone until I have properly sorted it out.”

Draft apology messages were also found on her phone.

Saleem claimed she had suffered from psychosis which stopped her from thinking rationally.

The judge added: “After your account was credited with the company’s funds you quickly began to disperse those funds.

“In July 2020 you transferred the sum of several hundred pounds into a family member’s account to be held there and thereafter the prosecution say ‘the floodgates opened’.

“I am not sure if that is an appropriate phrase or not but, even if there wasn’t a flood of money out of the accounts, there was constant leakage over a significant period of time with more than 2,500 separate payments out of your accounts between June 2020 and September 2021 whereby the funds raised were dissipated and the intended beneficiaries were deprived of the opportunities they were intended to have.”

Changing Your Mindset has since closed down.

In her victim impact statement Ms Scott, who has spent nearly 20 years working to support disadvantaged people in Bristol, described being “blown away” by the amount that had been raised because it “meant we could do a lot of good”.

The backlash after Saleem failed to hand over the funds included wrongfully being accused of being “complicit” in the fraud.

Ms Scott stated: “The charity lost its focus and, more importantly, the trust of the young people in the community.”

Saleem, who has says she feels remorse, had originally pleaded not guilty.

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