TWO pensioners have avoided jail after defrauding the race relations charity they worked for of more than £47,000.

Former director for Greenwich Council for Racial Equality (GCRE) Makhan Bajwa and treasurer Hardev Singh Dhillon siphoned off charity money for four years.

Bajwa - on a director's salary of £46,000 per year - and Dhillon used an elaborate system of false invoices that matched with fraudulent cash books to bury their trail.

The charity, funded by Greenwich Council, was forced to close following the revelations - ending a 43-year history of community support including helping the family of murdered schoolboy Stephen Lawrence.

Dhillon, 76, of Plumstead Common, and Bajwa, 67, of Park Crescent, Erith, were given a suspended sentence as well as a curfew and ordered to pay £7,000 costs each on August 14.

Prosecutor Benjamin Holt said: "Considerable thought and effort must have gone into the creation of false invoices.

"Under the moral clause of racial equality, they invented bogus claims for events that never took place."

The court heard how Dhillon first pocketed the money after his daughter approached him for help to furnish her new house.

Defence barrister Ruth Harris said: "He [Dhillon] was embarrassed to admit he didn’t have the money to assist her.

"He made the decision of transferring into his own account.

"That started a dirty and unpleasant habit for four years."

Miss Harris said the grandfather-of-eight was remorseful and appealed to the court to weigh up a lifetime’s commitment to others against this "terrible" period.

Raj Chada, defending Bajwa, told the court how the director's work after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was "trailblazing".

Judge Stephen Dawson sentenced them to 12 months in prison suspended for two years and ordered them to pay £1,000 costs each, plus £6,000 compensation for investigation costs.

They were also given a 150-day curfew order meaning they must remain within their houses between 8pm to 6am.

Judge Dawson told Woolwich Crown Court: "This was shameful conduct and you both rightly show remorse.

"Sadly, you may well have damaged that cause for which you have worked for most of your lives."

The pensioners have paid back the total £47,910.57 they stole.

Unhappy with the sentence

Former GCRE staff member Neelam Sawhney says the sentence is too lenient.

The 55-year-old said: "This is not fair. It is very sad, because there are so many victims of Bajwa and Dhillon."

Mrs Sawhney, who lives in New Eltham, says she was on other committees at the time and was forced to give jobs to members of Mr Bajwa’s family.

She said: "There is one word for Bajwa - a bully.

"Every time I was on a job interview panel, I was forced to give the job to his family, if not I would lose my job.

"I feel that their sentence is not justified, they should have been asked to do some real community work now and should have been asked to pay back much more.

"They are still filthy rich and think they can walk all over everybody because of their properties and fancy cars."