A bogus Help For Heroes collector faces jail after pocketing hundreds of pounds by posing in military uniform and pretending to be a serving soldier, a court heard.

David Santini, 55, was caught collecting cash from the unsuspecting public at an antiques fair in Newark after police became suspicious about the style of his uniform.

The convicted fraudster claimed to have just got back from Afghanistan when he was challenged about his charity work.

Santini, from south Lincolnshire, could not produce an Armed Forces identity card and it was later discovered he had not been a soldier since 1983 when he was given a dishonourable discharge.

Further investigations revealed Santini had also placed collecting buckets in pubs near a paintball stall, which he was given rent-free, on a site in Ingoldmells, near Skegness.

He was found to have taken £2,000 from a widow in her 70s with Alzheimer’s who believed the money was going to a local veterans’ charity.

Prosecutor Miss Edna Leonard told Lincoln Crown Court there was an element of planning to Santini’s crimes.

“He was in military uniform and backed that up with various stories, going to various events with Help For Heroes banners,” said Miss Leonard.

She said the offences came to light in 2014 when Santini was pretending to be a serving soldier and official collector for the Help For Heroes charity.

She told the court he was in the Army but was discharged in 1983.

Santini came to the attention of police, who were patrolling an antiques fair at Newark Showground, on June 6, 2014.

Miss Leonard said: “They spoke to him and at that time he said he had just got back from Afghanistan and had got into some bother with some Paras, and this was his punishment.

“He said the public had been very generous and the previous day he had collected £750.

“He claimed he was staying at RAF Waddington and as the police officers spoke to him members of the public were putting money in a red bucket.

“One of the officers became suspicious of the uniform he was wearing as it was part Royal Marine, and part Royal Air Force.

“He was asked for his Armed Forces identity card.

“At that point he said he didn’t have one and tried to say that he hadn’t said he was in the Forces, but had been in the past.”

String of previous convictions

When police searched the van Santini was living in at the time £269.52 was found in the glove compartment, the court was told.

Officers also recovered £222.14 from the red bucket and £26.50 from a charity box.

During a police interview Santini claimed to have Help For Heroes authorisation in the name of a prison officer friend and described the remark about Afghanistan as bravado.

A month after the Newark incident, Santini was given a rent-free pitch for his paintball range, the court was told.

Customers were charged £3 a go and Santini also put collecting buckets in bars surrounding the stall at Ingoldmells, which he had rent-free for ten weeks.

Miss Leonard said: “£791 was collected over that period in relation to the buckets in the bars. How much money the paintball stall made is very difficult to estimate, but the prosecution expect about £2,000.”

“Mrs Taylor said to her son in 2014 that she gave £200 to a man called Dave,” Miss Leonard told the court.

“The son later learnt it was £2,000.”

The court heard Santini had a string of previous convictions for dishonesty.

He received a suspended sentence for burglary in 1983 and in January 2000 was jailed for 2½ years at Bradford Crown Court for five offences of theft and deception where he targeted vulnerable women and pretended to be a serving soldier.

Miss Diane Mundill, defending, told the court all the cash collected at Newark was in the possession of the police and Mrs Taylor’s money had been paid back to her.

Miss Mundill said there were also receipts to show Santini had paid £970 to the Help For Our Local Heroes And Veterans charity.

“He has been living in a mobile home for a number of years,” she said. “He fully understands he will not be going back there.”

Judge Simon Hirst adjourned the case until November for further evidence to be called to establish the exact sum of money Santini had benefited from.

Santini, of North Drove, Quadring, has pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud between June and October, 2014, and a charge of theft from Mrs Taylor. He was granted bail until his next court appearance.