The very last thing Kayleigh Pepper’s victims thought was that she was robbing them.
A self-proclaimed community activist fighting knife crime and raising funds to support victims’ families, Kayleigh reaffirmed what little faith in humanity was left to those bereaved by the violence.
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After all, she was a victim herself after losing her brother Richard Pepper in 2015 when he was stabbed to death in east Hull, a horrific crime that led her to set up the Rich Foundation.
Kayleigh raised funds and helped heal divided communities – and she was good at it. But then Kayleigh lost her depth, her philanthropy giving way to selfishness as penny by penny, pound by pound, she began to take it for herself.
The 36-year-old mother-of-two was jailed for 20 months at Hull Crown Court on Friday after she admitted stealing £20,000 from the Foundation.
Judge Thackray QC showed little sympathy in refusing to suspend his prison sentence, telling him his crimes were a “gross betrayal of trust”.
“The effect goes far beyond the pounds, shillings and pence you stole,” he said.
The sum stolen during the period was more likely to be around £32,000, according to prosecuting solicitor Ashleigh Metcalfe.
This did not include anything she withdrew from cash donations, based on which the full total may never be fully known.
Kayleigh launched her #NoMoreKnives campaign with Hull Live and Humberside Police in 2018 after her brother Rich, 25, was killed in a confrontation outside a house in east Hull.
“I want people to see the tragic consequences and the devastation that knives cause to families,” she told reporters as she stood near the scene where he was stabbed to death by Daniel Flatley three years earlier.
Teaming up with local officers, Kayleigh has pledged to visit high schools across the city to speak to young people about the impact carrying knives can have.
The Rich Foundation was launched two years prior, with the aim of preventing violence and supporting bereaved families.
Standing under a 26ft Knife Angel statue built from confiscated weapons the Foundation helped bring to Hull in 2019, Kayleigh knew the good she was doing had real impact.
But unbeknownst to those around her, Kayleigh was pocketing donations for projects such as a memorial garden for air rifle victim Stanley Metcalf’s school and spending it on vacations, takeaways, clothes – even in games of chance.
Kayleigh Pepper with the Knife Angel
“web of lies”
Following the tragic death of six-year-old Stanley in 2018, Kayleigh approached her mother Jenny Dees, offering to raise money for the family and organize a balloon release.
“I knew Kayleigh from school, but she wasn’t someone I talked to,” Jenny said.
“In fact, she approached me the day after Stanley died, explaining that her charity was caring for bereaved parents.”
That night, Kayleigh created a Go Fund Me page.
Although hundreds were given to the family as promised for her funeral and other expenses, looking back Jenny says there is a question mark over her honesty at the time.
After helping to raise £2,850 for the Memorial Garden, a place where Stanley’s friends could remember him, Kayleigh asked them to transfer it to the Rich Foundation’s account, which was still an unregistered charity .
Trusting him, they transferred the money – but it was never given to the school. Unbeknownst to Jenny, the school was suing Kayleigh for the money only to make excuses. Instead, they ended up fending for themselves.
“The Peace Garden was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Then they built this hut for councils and it was painted. All of that after what she had done, so in the end it became a sad place to go.”
The fraud came to light after the two friends held a fundraising party and raffle, with Kayleigh calling the following day to say the amount raised had been “disappointing”.
“When people said they gave X amount, that’s when I started adding them up,” said Jenny, 44.
“In hindsight, everything about Stanley had been pegged to the Rich Foundation.
“In all honesty, I don’t think we’ll see that money again.”
Others around Jenny who helped fundraising efforts also felt humiliated by the deception.
Sarah Carr, who helped raise funds, said she felt ‘physically betrayed’ and ’embarrassed’ for believing ‘the defendant’s web of lies,’ a victim impact statement showed in front the tribunal.
It is this betrayal of trust, the judge said, that has caused so many to choose not to donate to charity, which has impacted so many good causes.
time to think
Kayleigh, who changed her last name from Pepper to Towler since the start of the legal proceedings, was sentenced to 20 months in prison on Friday.
His Honor Judge Thackray QC said ‘the only appropriate sanction’ would be immediate detention, despite pleas from the defense to suspend the sentence.
During Friday’s sentencing, it was understood Kayleigh had been scrambling to set aside £2,000 throughout her ongoing trial to give back to victims.
“She is desperately sorry for the situation she has imposed on others,” defense attorney Nigel Clive said.
She will also be forced to repay what she stole through the Proceeds of Crime Act, for which a hearing is scheduled for next month.
Jenny said she feels justice has been served by the sentence and that she can finally ‘put an end to what happened’ and be able to move on and properly grieve for her child.
“In the next few months, we have sworn to come together to replant in Stanley’s garden and bring him back to happiness.
“This garden deserves to be beautiful.”
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