Xahra Saleem, the spearhead behind Edward Colston’s statue toppling, faces justice for misappropriating fundraiser donations
In a striking turn of events, Xahra Saleem, a key organiser of the Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol which led to the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue, has been handed down a jail sentence for fraud. The 23-year-old activist found herself embroiled in a financial scandal after embezzling more than £30,000, including a staggering near £6,000 splurged on Uber rides alone.
The judgement was delivered today at the Bristol Crown Court where Saleem was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. She pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position, following an intensive investigation into a fundraiser associated with the BLM movement by the Avon and Somerset Police. The GoFundMe page titled ‘BristBLM’ was initially set up to support the demonstration on June 7, 2020, but came under scrutiny after the donation money mysteriously disappeared.
The funds were intended for “Changing Your Mindset”, a youth group based in Bristol’s St Pauls. However, they never reached their destined beneficiaries. The court heard that Saleem received an initial sum of £30,653, amassed from 588 individual donations from sympathisers around the globe. The total sum on the GoFundMe page was £32,344. However, Saleem’s expenditures rocketed to a total of £44,815 on what were termed as “lifestyle” expenses, highlighting the egregious misuse of the funds she was entrusted with.
Prosecutor Alistair Haggerty elucidated that the fraudulent activities weren’t characterised by big purchases. The money was frittered away on shopping, bills, a new iPhone and iMac, hair and beauty expenses, clothes, Amazon purchases, taxis, and takeaways. Saleem, hailing from Romford, Essex, had initially entered not guilty pleas to two charges of fraud. The second charge, related to a separate online fundraising page set up post the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue, titled ‘Bristol Protesters Legal Fees’, was eventually discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service.
In a chastising address, Judge Michael Longman reprimanded Saleem for having “abused her position” as director of Changing Your Mindset. He remarked, “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.”
The judge acknowledged that the influx of donations had massively exceeded expectations, and Saleem “took advantage” of the scenario. Although he accepted that Saleem did not set out with fraudulent intentions initially, her actions over an “extended period of time” spoke volumes of the trust she violated, impacting a large number of victims. The sentence, however, was tapered considering her age and immaturity at the time, alongside her expressed remorse over her actions.
The case has left a lasting scar on the community, especially the members of Changing Your Mindset. In a statement, Jay Daley and Deneisha Royal expressed their ongoing disappointment, voicing that justice doesn’t feel fully served as the lost funds are unlikely to be recuperated. They lamented the betrayal by someone who understood the noble cause they were striving for, to make a positive change in their community. The misappropriation of funds not only broke the trust but also quashed many hopes and opportunities that could have been realised through the intended financial support.
The case of Xahra Saleem sheds light on the importance of transparency and trust, especially when rallying for a cause that seeks to champion social justice. It also underscores the necessity for stringent measures to ensure that funds raised for community upliftment are channelled correctly, safeguarding the integrity of such movements. Story Source