Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Alex Ross

How devastated youth group was cheated out of £30k by Black Lives Matter fraudster


She appeared as their saviour - but instead Xahra Saleem led a team of volunteers on a year-long journey of deception which ended with the closure of the group and the end of a dream trip.

The 23-year-old left no stone unturned as she avoided the group’s attempts to claim £30,000 raised through an online fundraiser, while spending the cash on Uber rides, Amazon purchases and hair and nail treatments.

The self-claimed activist agreed to give money to the group from the GoFundMe page set up in co-ordination with a Black Lives Matter demo she co-organised in Bristol in June 2020 after the death of George Floyd.

Xahra Saleem was jailed for two-and-a-half years after spending £30k destined for the Bristol-based youth group
— ( )

But when the toppling of Colston’s statue attracted worldwide attention, an expected “few hundred pounds” turned into more than £30,000 raised and Saleem then opted to take the cash to support her own lifestyle.

Saleem, of Briars Walk in Romford, was jailed for two and a half years after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday.

The court heard how her crime was made easier when the Bristol-based group, called Changing Your Mindset, agreed for the money to go into her personal account to buy the directors time to set up a business account.

However, when, in April 2021, a business account was set up, Saleem fended off requests with numerous excuses including she needed attend a bank in person for the transfer, which she was unable to do because of work commitments.

She also said was in hospital on several occasions and money could not be sent over because of homophobic comments made by individuals Changing Your Mindset was working with.

However, after leaders of the group gave her an ultimatum to hand over the money in June 2021 she did respond with an email stating she had spent it all.

She wrote: “I’m so sorry; I’m trying to understand my actions as well, I take full accountability and I’m happy to sort this out whether it’s with court or the police as my actions have consequences and I do not want to pardon myself from them.”

Volunteers and users of a youth group which lost money spent by fraudster Xahra Saleem gave a statement outside Bristol Crown Court after her sentencing
— (PA)

The news had a devastating consequence on the group, which was forced to run down operations when funding dried up. The group also had to cancel a once-in-a-lifetime education trip for 15 of its members to Ghana.

Despite the admittance, Saleem initially denied fraud, before she finally came clean when she pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by abuse of power at Bristol Crown Court on September 2023.

And on Tuesday, she was jailed for two-and-a-half years at the same court where Judge Michael Longman dismissed mitigation that she had been unwise and careless.

“She came to us offering free money - there was no way we were going to question it,” a spokesperson for Changing Your Mindset told The Independent.

“We needed funding and she said she’d give us the money raised after PPE (personal protective equipment) was paid for at the march. It was a no lose situation, so we accepted.

“We expected a few hundred, but then one morning we checked and there were thousands of pounds on there. We were absolutely amazed. It was going to secure our future and we could organise an education trip for our young people.”

Xahra Saleem was jailed for two and a half years for fraud
— (PA)

The UK was coming in and out of Covid lockdown restrictions, but quietly the group had begun to plan for the windfall, setting up the business bank account and planning for the trip to Ghana for 15 of its young users.

“But then we heard little from her,” continued the spokesperson. “We messaged her and called her to Bristol for a meeting where she said she needed to set up a business bank account.

“Then we got suspicious, and we wrote an email demanding she give us the money within 14 days. We got an email from her saying she had spent it all.

Protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during the Black Lives Matter protest rally
— (PA Wire)

“It was devastating. We had to explain what had happened while clearing our own names of any wrong-doing, and then the group could not continue, and it folded.

“We were actively deceived by her at every turn. It was horrendous, and it’s impacted us all badly.”

Saleem, who also went under the alias Yvonne Marina, was a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement - and trust was placed in her due to her profile, the sentencing hearing heard.

She was named among the 30 most influential under-30s in Bristol by a city-based magazine in 2021.

She also appeared in a Vogue article on the five people who organised the Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in which she said: ”We brought Bristol together, we raised awareness! And there was history made.”

But today a disgraced Saleem is behind bars in prison - while the volunteers and members of Changing Your Mindset continue to pick up the pieces, and bring back their work for young people in the city.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.