THE trial of Elaine McGonigle, the former director of the New Pyjamas Charity, which was supposed to raise £15 million towards a new Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, and began in June 2014, has now been postponed until April because of her illness.
McGonigle, 51, of Errol in Perthshire, was suspended by the Sick Kids Friends Foundation in 2010 after concerns about the amount of money that was being raised. In January 2011, the police began an inquiry into the working of the charity and on July 8, McGonigle was charged with alleged fraud relating to her expenses. She appeared in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on petition in August that year. The case was later reduced to a summary complaint in 2012 when McGonigle pled not guilty to obtaining £1855 by thirteen charges of claiming fraudulent expenses between September 22, 2008, and March 5, 2010.
McGonigle is alleged to have fraudulently charged for food, travel and accommodation in meeting with people in order to raise funds for the charity. The Crown allege that she had not met with the persons she claimed to have and had charged for flights to London on business when she used the bookings for holidays.
Witnesses, whom she claimed expenses for meeting, included former First Minister Jack McConnell, businessman Nick Kuenssberg, Donald McDonald, head of the McDonald Hotel Group, Vera Weisfeld of “What Everyone Woman Wants” group, and multi-millionaire Ann Gloag. All of them denied having met McGonigle when she claimed they had.
Early in 2015, McGonigle suffered a stroke and was hospitalised. In August, a report by the specialist treating her said she was not fit to take part, but that they might be in a better position better to make a decision in four or five months time. The case was continued until today when Fiscal Depute, Graham Fraser, told Sheriff Douglas Allan that the specialist reported McGonigle “was still suffering significant problems” and advised that she would be “vulnerable” in court. Mr Fraser said: “The real concern we have is, is it possible for a patient to manipulate the results of the tests or are the tests capable of manipulation?”. The Crown, he added, had identified two specialists in this field and asked for a continuation for a report from them.
Defence solicitor, Gary Foulis, opposed the motion. “I submit we have now come to the stage in these proceedings where a line has to be drawn”. “Mrs McGonigle” he said “has suffered a life-changing event. There is clear impairment here. The medical profession has said very clearly she will never be able to take part in a trial”. He added: “This lady is clearly having to get medical treatment to try and give her some quality of life”.
Sheriff Allan said Mrs McGonigle’s specialist had reported no improvement in her condition and that she would suffer from impairment for the rest of her life, but what The Crown were asking for was another specialist’s assessment. “I don’t think that is contrary to the interests of justice” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to deny The Crown the opportunity to make such further checks and assessments”. He ordered another hearing for April 15.
Before the trial began in June 2014, there were 14 hearings. Since then there have been 24 hearings (including today’s), 15 for evidence, three for legal debates and five due to evidence not being heard due to illness or witnesses being unable to attend.