CHARGES against a woman accused of theft and fraud in a fund-raising campaign related to bell-ringing have been dropped after four-and-a-half years of attempted prosecution.
Julie McDonnell, a bell-ringer at St George’s, Brede, in East Sussex, was a guest on the BBC’s Songs of Praise on Easter Day 2016, when she said that she had undergone a stem-cell transplant as part of her treatment for terminal blood cancer. She told viewers that she was launching a fund-raising campaign to raise money for cancer charities and to increase awareness of the condition.
The campaign was supported by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, which described Ms McDonnell as a “leukaemia warrior”. Ringers in cathedrals and churches around the world responded with enthusiasm to the appeal, called Strike Back Against Blood Cancer. A special peal — the “Julie McDonnell Doubles” — was devised by bell-ringers in Kent. The initiative was widely reported, by both the Church Times (News, 27 May 2016, 27 January 2017) and The Ringing World, among others.
It is not known how much money Ms McDonnell raised. But, in March 2019, she appeared in court charged with fraud and the theft of approximately £6000 from the JustGiving platform. She pleaded not guilty. According to press reports, the police believed that Ms McDonnell had never undergone stem-cell treatment as she had claimed.
The case has taken about 20 separate hearings over the past four years to come to a resolution, because Ms McDonnell has repeatedly said that she could not attend court because of health conditions, including muscle weakness, PTSD, neurological problems, and an eating disorder.
The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed this week that the proceedings against Ms McDonnell had been discontinued after a hearing at Lewes Crown Court on 18 August found that there was no prospect of securing a conviction.