A WINDOW cleaner who organised a Christmas savings club has appeared in court after admitting stealing the cash.

Barry Russell was the acting agent for the Park Xmas Savings Club and was collecting cash from people who attended the bingo club at the Royal British Legion, Prestonpans.

But instead of saving the cash taken from attendees, many of whom were pensioners, Russell, of Hope Park, Haddington, was depositing the cash into his own bank account.

The 36-year-old’s scam was uncovered, though, when he bought a new family car, which caused some to believe he could not afford the vehicle due to his only income coming from his window cleaning round.

Checks were made at a Musselburgh bank and it became apparent that the Christmas club cash had not been saved up.

Russell appeared in the dock at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he admitted embezzling £4,397.25 over an 11-month period in 2015.

Fiscal depute Alison Innes told the court that Russell approached a woman at the bingo club in January 2015 and told her he was starting a savings club, asking if she and her friends would be interested.

Ms Innes said: “The lady who runs the bingo at the Royal British Legion club was approached and the accused said he was going to start saving for Park [savings club]. This lady told other ladies and some of them agreed to save weekly and did so. The money would be given to her and she would hand it on to the accused.”

Ms Innes said that the women spotted Russell going into a Musselburgh bank on regular occasions and “just assumed” he was banking their cash.

The fiscal added: “Then someone became suspicious after Russell bought a new car which they thought was odd as all he had was a window cleaning job.

“The collections continued and the woman at the bingo was then told not all the money had been banked.

“She was mortified and didn’t have the nerve to tell all these people [fellow savers] what was going on.”

The police were contacted a few weeks later and Russell was eventually traced in March last year.

The court heard that the Park company had repaid some of the money to the out-of-pocket savers, who were aged between 50 and 83 years old, and “many were retired and some were living on benefits”.

Russell’s solicitor said that his client “accepted full responsibility” for the embezzlement and that he was “ashamed at the offence he has committed”.

The lawyer added that Russell did not pay any of the cash back but some of the participants in the savings club were reimbursed by Park Savings Club.

Sheriff Adrian Cottam told Russell last Wednesday he was “close to a custodial sentence” but stopped short of jailing him as there could not be a compensation order imposed if that was the sentence.

The sheriff added: “I don’t think you can repay the whole debt but some must be paid back.”

He sentenced Russell to a two-year supervision order as a direct alternative to custody and ordered him to carry out 190 hours of unpaid work. Russell was also told to pay back £2,400 in compensation.

Russell admitted embezzling £4,397.25 while acting as an agent for Park Xmas Savings Club between January 1 and November 27, 2015.