THE founder of a charity for ill children is launching an investigation over an allegation that she may have fallen victim to fraudsters.

Corinne Gardner, 71, has run Tree of Hope from her home in Bexhill for 18 years.

Last year around £40,000 of her charity’s £800,000 income came from SOS Clothes Ltd, a licensed door-to-door clothes collection company.

It leaves bags with the Tree of Hope logo on doorsteps and returns days later to pick up the donated clothes.

Under the terms of its contract with the charity, the company is committed to handing over 85% of its profits.

But reports in a national newspaper at the weekend alleged the company had been misleading Mrs Gardner about the donations received – a claim the firm denies.

SOS Clothes Ltd employees were secretly recorded boasting about falsifying records and selling on the clothes themselves for a profit.

One said: “There were 100 tons and you write there were ten tons. I can lay aside some goods and keep it very quiet.”

Mrs Gardner said she is likely to sever all ties with the company within a week unless it can prove its innocence.

She said thefts from charities are increasing and that those who commit the crime are “greedy”.

She added: “I have been running the charity for 18 years and I have tried to give every penny to those in need.

“I was almost in tears when I found out about these claims.

“If these companies want to mislead us then it’s very difficult for us to find out about it.

“You just have to hope that people will be honest, especially when kid’s lives are at stake.”

According to Clothes Aid, which collects clothing for charities, a ton of clothing sells for around £900.

SOS Clothes Ltd insisted it does pay Tree of Hope 85% of its profits – but did not respond to The Argus’ request for a |comment.