Xahra Saleem leaves Bristol Magistrates’ Court (Image: Ben Birchall/PA)
An organiser of the Black Lives Matter protests which toppled slave trader Edward Colston’s statue has been jailed for fraud after spending more than £30,000 on herself – including nearly £6,000 on Ubers.
Xahra Saleem, 23, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison today after she pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position after an investigation into a fundraiser linked to the BLM movement.
Avon and Somerset Police investigated a GoFundMe page called BristBLM initially set up for the demonstration on June 7, 2020 after the donation money disappeared.
The fundraiser was intended to raise cash for Changing Your Mindset, which was a Bristol St Pauls-based youth group, but it was never received.
Bristol Crown Court heard today that Saleem received an initial payment of £30,653. This came after a total of 588 individual donations had been made from around the world to the GoFundMe page, totalling £32,344.
She went on to spend a total of £44,815 on what were described as “lifestyle” expenses – including a whopping £5,800 on Ubers.
Statue of Edward Colston thrown into Bristol harbour during 2020’s BLM protest (Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)
Prosecuting, Alistair Haggerty told the court it was not clear whether she intended to spend the money raised, or “succumbed to temptation,”
He added: “These were not big purchases. There was some money spent on shopping and bills, a new iPhone and iMac, but it was mainly on hair, beauty, clothes, Amazon purchases, taxis and takeaways.
Saleem, of Romford, Essex, 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’.
This was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service.
But sentencing her today, Judge Michael Longman told her she had “abused her position” as director of Changing Your Mindset.
He told her: “As an organiser of the Black Lives Matter march in Bristol, you gave yourself a high public profile which you used to raise money to help young people in St Pauls – an immensely worthwhile cause.
“That money you then used for your benefit, not theirs – funding a lifestyle which you could not normally afford.”
Protesters topple statue of Edward Colston during 2020 BLM rally (Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)
He said the donations massively exceeded expectations and the defendant “took advantage” of the situation.
He added: “I take into account the funds raised plainly exceeded all expectations to a substantial degree, and attempts were made to set up a business account.
“I accept that you did not set out to defraud initially, but took advantage.”
Judge Longman said the fraud was conducted over an “extended period of time” and included a large amount of victims.
“There was abuse of trust,” he added.
But he said he reduced the length of sentence that he would have given as there was mitigation – including her age and immaturity at the time.
He added: “There is remorse. I have no doubt you have remorse now looking back at that period of time.”
In a statement released after the hearing, Jay Daley and Deneisha Royal from the youth group Changing Your Mindset said they continued to feel let down.
Xahra Saleem told she had ‘abused her position’ by judge (Image: SWNS)
- Advert-free experience without interruptions.
- Rocket-fast speedy loading pages.
- Exclusive & Unlimited access to all our content.
They said: “It doesn’t feel that justice has been fully served as we are unlikely to get back the money from her. It feels like we are being punished. It saddens me that a member of our community could do this to us because they knew and understood the goal we set out to achieve in order to positively change our community.
“For me the group was a safe place. A refuge that I could relax without concern for my safety.
“For some members it was an opportunity to cook a meal, collect donations and receive support for mental health as well as learn about new things such as employment opportunities.
“If we were to get the money back we would go on the trip and members of the group would reestablish the group and make changes to the community and use time on the trip to plan for this.”