How horse charity sparked vicious social media battle

A HORSE rescue charity descended into a vicious social media battle after the president used the organisation's money to buy beauty products and clothes.

Bianca Amanda Vella pleaded guilty in the Southport District Court to fraud, falsifying documents and using a carriage service to menace and harass.

Crown prosecutor Michael Mitchell said the matter was reported in 2016 and investigations found that Vella had spent $1747 belonging to the Save a Horse Australia charity on beauty products at Ella Bache and clothes at Cue.

Vella also changed the minutes of a Save a Horse Australia meeting to insert details about wages to her that were not discussed by the committee.

Allegations of Vella's fraud fuelled a nasty social media stoush between her and another member of the charity, Vanessa Skipworth.

The court was told Ms Skipworth had made various online posts boasting that Vella was under investigation by police in early 2016.

Vella retaliated by creating a fake Facebook account under the name "Gina Long".

Under that pseudonym, the 37-year-old posted a number of lies in November 2016 about Ms Skipworth, including that she made up allegations against a family member and was involved in the transport of drugs.

After Vella was charged by police in early 2017, Ms Skipworth, in social media posts, threatened to sabotage Vella's wedding and to "take down this c***", the court was told.

Weeks later, Ms Skipworth phoned a hospital where Vella was having a double mastectomy pretending to be "Gina Long". In the phone call played to the court, Ms Skipworth says she is Vella's sister and was planning a surprise visit.

Ms Skipworth has never been charged over the posts or phone call.

In court on Wednesday, Judge David Kent accepted the posts were part of ongoing "social media battles".

"It is not fair to say you fired the first shot in this battle but the Facebook post that does you no credit was in a false persona you adopted and you said things about Ms Skipworth which were very hurtful," he said during sentencing of Vella.

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He expressed particular disgust with the phone call made by Ms Skipworth.

"The phone call while you were undergoing a double mastectomy was an act of cruelty which defies belief," Judge Kent said.

"I find that cruel and inhumane."

Judge Kent fined Vella $1000 and placed her on a $500 good behaviour bond for 12 months.

He also ordered Vella pay the charity the $1747 in restitution.

No convictions were recorded.

Defence barrister Sarah Thompson, instructed by Gatenby Criminal Lawyers, said since the charges Vella had cancer and underwent a hysterectomy and double mastectomy.

She said Vella still worked for a number of charities helping raise money including for domestic violence.

The court was told Vella was orphaned as a teenager and spent two years on the streets before a high school principal helped her gain accommodation.

Ms Thompson said Vella was hoping to complete a veterinary science degree.

Vella currently works selling solar systems.

Originally published as How horse charity sparked vicious social media battle



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