“HE WAS a cold, calculating fraudster.”

Those are the words of a Hampshire charity chief after its former finance manager was jailed for stealing more than £440,000.

Ronald Chigunwe was locked up after his actions were described as “despicable” by Judge Gary Burrell at Southampton Crown Court.

Chigunwe abused his position of trust by systematically stealing cash from Wessex Heartbeat, which provides support to patients at the Wessex Cardiac Centre at Southampton General Hospital.

The highly-respected charity revealed that his dishonesty had delayed some of its work.

Last year Chigunwe, 40, of Basingstoke, admitted two counts of fraud by abuse of position and two counts of converting criminal property.

He was sentenced last week to four years in prison after the prosecution and defence were finally able to agree on the exact amount taken – £443,443.

Speaking after the case John Munro, chief executive of Wessex Heartbeat, said: “We are delighted with the sentence he received.

“It was almost the maximum he could have been given and reflects how severely he abused his position of trust.

“If he hadn’t done what he did, we could have supported more projects a lot sooner.

“Chigunwe showed a callous disregard for our supporters, the patients and their families. The judge called him ‘despicable’ for stealing from a charity and I would agree wholeheartedly with that description.”

Mr Munro said he was confident all the cash would be recovered through the sale of Chigunwe’s assets.

He added: “He seemed to be a very nice guy but turned out to be a cold, calculating fraudster who showed no remorse for what he did.

“He used the money to finance a lavish lifestyle – his motive was pure greed.”

Chigunwe was the charity’s financial manager and used his position to cover his tracks, stealing the money over a period of several years.

His crimes came to light after Mr Munro was appointed in 2015 and began to examine the charity’’s finances with the help of his wife, who is an accountant.

Mr Munro said: “My first thought was that he was slightly incompetent but we soon realised what was going on. He was suspended and resigned.”

Wessex Heartbeat began raising funds for Wessex Cardiac Centre in 1992 and has so far netted more than £15 million, fund raising across Hampshire, providing cutting-edge equipment and a raft of other assets.

As well as being jailed for four years Chigunwe was told to pay £12,000 prosecution costs.