One of the organisers of the Black Lives Matter protest which saw slave trader Edward Colston’s statue toppled has admitted fraud after £30,000 raised from donors went missing.
Xahra Saleem, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position following an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police into a GoFundMe page called ‘BristBLM’ set up ahead of the protest in Bristol in June 2020.
Saleem had set up the crowdfunding page to raise money for face masks and other equipment to help facilitate the march legally, given it was taking place at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An agreement is said to have been made that any excess funds would go to charity Changing Your Mindset Ltd – which was a youth group based in the St Pauls area of Bristol – so young people could go on a trip to Africa.
The Colston statue was pushed into Bristol harbour on June 7, 2020, during protests related to the death of George Floyd in the US, and the subsequent global BLM movement.
Following the protest, which gained world-wide attention, the page raised tens of thousands of pounds, however none of the money is alleged to have arrived with the charity.
Saleem – who changed her name from Yvonne Maina – is accused of using money raised for herself.
She initially entered not guilty pleas to two charges of fraud. The second charge related to a separate online fundraising page set up in the days following the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in June 2020, called ‘Bristol Protesters Legal Fees’.
A trial was listed for December – but Saleem appeared at Bristol Crown Court last week to change her plea to guilty for the first charge. The second charge was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service, it emerged today.
Saleem, of Romford, Essex, will return to the same court to be sentenced at the end of October.
Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, who became known as the Colston Four in a case that attracted wide attention, were later cleared of criminal damage connected to the incident involving the statue.
Changing Your Mindset has since closed down.
A spokesperson for the group told Bristol Live that the group was still working to retrieve the money, but it appeared unlikely.