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‘I thought it was a scam’: mystery US couple gives £380,000 to music group

PUBLISHED: 11:35 08 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:35 08 January 2020

Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts who donated £380,000 to the West Norfolk Music Centre. Photo: West Norfolk Music Centre

Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts who donated £380,000 to the West Norfolk Music Centre. Photo: West Norfolk Music Centre

Norfolk Music Centre

When a community music group received an email from the USA with the promise of almost £400,000, there was one thought - scam.

West Norfolk Music Centre in King's Lynn has received a £380,000 donation. Photo: West Norfolk Music GroupWest Norfolk Music Centre in King's Lynn has received a £380,000 donation. Photo: West Norfolk Music Group

But remarkably, the gift is real - even though none of the West Norfolk Music Centre members has a clue why it was chosen.

The mystery £380,000 came from Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts from Florida, who donated to the music group along with seven other charities shortly before they died.

It initially received an email from a lawyer in Florida, saying the American couple had left them a six-figure sum.

Charity trustee Conrad Meehan - handily a trading standards officer at West Norfolk Council by day - said the group was in disbelief and that he "thought it was a scam".

West Norfolk Music Centre in King's Lynn has received a £380,000 donation. Photo: West Norfolk Music GroupWest Norfolk Music Centre in King's Lynn has received a £380,000 donation. Photo: West Norfolk Music Group

Mr Meehan said that the more he looked into it the more he started to believe the donation was not a scam.

His advice to the charities was: "We might have something, but don't hand anything over - either money or sensitive information - without professional advice from the bank."

The lawyer never asked for money or personal details and eventually the money - which equals 10 years' turnover for the group - ended up with West Norfolk Music Centre.

Mr Meehan said the group, which meets at Springwood High School in King's Lynn on Saturday mornings, had no idea why the pair decided to donate the money to the music group, with no obvious connections to either the charity and area, however Ms Roberts was born in the UK, in Scotland.

West Norfolk Music Centre has received a £380,000 donation from an American couple. Photo: West Norfolk Music CentreWest Norfolk Music Centre has received a £380,000 donation from an American couple. Photo: West Norfolk Music Centre

He added: "I wish we knew: it came completely out of the blue. Varuni was born in the UK in Scotland but had no connections to us. Of the eight charities, four are in Scotland and four are in England."

In order to make sure the donation was legitimate, Mr Meehan said he carried out checks in partnership with the other seven charities receiving donations.

He said the group was still working on how the money should be used, although he said the focus would be on ensuring the music centre was sustainable for years to come, with a particular emphasis on music workshops and performances for children.

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