When Miriam Beard "milked" a charity out of more than £50,000, she stole from one of Wales' poorest communities.As the former co-ordinator of the Plas Madoc Communities First Project, it was her job to ensure the charity's funds helped improve the Wrexham community.Many residents believe the money could have enhanced life for those on the estate, particularly children.Beard, 56, of Henllan, Denbighshire, was jailed for 32 months on Friday at Caernarfon Crown Court.She was appointed the charity's co-ordinator in 2003 after working as a welfare rights money adviser for Wrexham council's social services department. Even before she began work, she had misled the organisation. During her trial - before she changed her plea to guilty - Mold Crown Court heard she had concealed her past by claiming to be 10 years younger than she was.She claimed that she left university and went straight to work after obtaining A levels and GCSEs.In reality, she had been due to sit six CSE examinations, failed three and failed to turn up for three, and never went to university, the court heard.She had also been convicted of offences of dishonesty and other matters in the 1970s, and in 1979 went to prison for conspiracy to defraud.Her most serious crime though, according to many Plas Madoc residents, was stealing money that could have improved the lives of local children.The charity was intended to provide activities to boost the quality of life for local residents.According to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation 2011 - which breaks the country down into 1,896 small areas - Plas Madoc is ranked the 24th most deprived in Wales.Welsh government statistics on Communities First areas (dated 2001), said nearly 83% of people lived in rented council accommodation or housing from a registered social landlord.Figures suggested more than 10% of households were overcrowded.Tracey Pritchard, Post Office worker: "There used to be a youth club here, but that's gone. It was somewhere for the children to go at night, at least, but there's nothing here anymore."There's a leisure centre, but I don't think half the people here can afford to use it."Resident Laura Hughes, 32, an unemployed carer for her autistic daughter, said: "My daughter was going to a group called Reflections, but they had to stop it. The children would play and learn there."You don't rob £50,000 off places like this. People haven't got any money."
But there are plenty of questions as yet unanswered and there are suggestions that there are more revelations about money stolen or wasted on hotels, fancy meals and alcohol by Miriam Beard and others.
What has happened to Andrew Bunning, the Plas Madoc Communities First finance officer, who resigned after admitting defrauding the state?
Above all there has been a deafening silence from two very important sources.
Firstly the trustees who employed Miriam Beard and allowed her to buy a car with "petty" cash, buy a caravan and not advertise its existence to locals and failed to check her claims that she had a degree and no criminal convictions. Why was a woman with so few relevant qualifications allowed to take such a powerful post without safeguards?
Firstly, the trustees have yet to apologise to the people ripped off, have yet to hold up their hands and be accountable. They have presided over this disaster and should resign. The fact that they haven't says everything about their lack of accountability.
Secondly, the Welsh Government who set up the Communities First programme a decade ago. More than £200 million has been spent in our poorest communities and, although Plas Madoc is an extreme example of what can go wrong, there is also a huge question about the effectiveness of the programme in many areas. What have they achieved? Would they survive if government funding was pulled? How have they empowered those communities? It seems that these questions are belatedly being addressed as the next stage of Communities First funding comes on stream in October 2012... 10 years too late for places like Plas Madoc.