Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Gwenda Bush: Unravelling the lies of a career criminal

For 12 years Gwenda Bush put her hand out to the Salvation Army for help. Photo / Doug Sherring
For 12 years Gwenda Bush put her hand out to the Salvation Army for help. Photo / Doug Sherring

For 12 years Gwenda Bush put her hand out to the Salvation Army for help.

She was given food, furniture and clothing to the tune of $6000.

But every sob story was a lie, fabricated so she could rort the system and rip off the charity.

The 63-year-old, who now has 615 dishonesty convictions to her name, was sentenced to home detention yesterday.

Today the Herald reveals the extent of her fiction, and the real facts uncovered by the police.

It started in July, 2002.

Gwenda Christine Bush contacted the Salvation Army in Royal Oak. She said her name was Gwen Wright and she had been locked out of her home by her husband.

Police could not help her, she said, because the house belonged to him. She asked for help for her and her daughter, Cheyenne Wright, and was given clothing to the value of $30.

According to the police summary of facts the court provided to the Herald, it has been established through the Department of Internal Affairs that Bush has two children - Shyeen Wright born in 1989 and Jason Hendry born in 1986.

So the dependants she named when seeking help from the charity were either fictitious, or variations on her actual children's names.

Bush's children were in no way involved with or linked to her offending.

January 2003:
Bush, using the name Gweneth Henry, went back to Royal Oak and said she needed help for herself and her sons Shaun Henry and Mark Henry. She was given items to the value of $370.

November 2005 to January 2008:
Bush uses her real name at Royal Oak and says she has two dependants - Toni Bush and Sean.

She stated she was escaping violence and had no essential items. Salvation Army Royal Oak furnished her home and gave her food parcels to the value of $700.
Police Summary of Facts

The summary also revealed that Bush has been married once. She married a man in 1971. His surname was never used in connection to her offending so the Herald has chosen not to identify the man.

Bush has been in other relationships but has never married again.

December 2011:
Barbara Kaihe was Bush's next alias when she contacted Royal Oak. She said she had two dependants, Jason aged 7 and Tania aged 9.

"She stated she had left a violent relationship and had to leave all her Christmas stuff behind. She was given items and food the value of $210," the police summary stated.

The Herald has chosen not to publish any surnames of the young people Bush claimed were in her care. Although we know the stories she told the Salvation Army were lies, the names of the children may be genuine.

March 2012 to July 2012:
This time Bush claimed to be Linda Wright and said she had four dependants - Kevin, 11, Peter, 10, Blaine, 6 and baby Jason.

She told the Royal Oak branch that she had just been discharged from "a hospital in Hamilton" and had two cracked ribs and bruises on her face. She said she was "fearful that her husband would find her again".

Bush was given food and items to the value of $250.

Police have established that there are no reported incidents of family violence involving Bush, or any of her aliases, on their system.

May 19, 2012 to May 23, 2012:
Gwenda Wright goes to the Royal Oak branch and said she was "struggling with the cost of living".

She had three dependants Peter, 11, Blaine, 6 and Jablo, 4 and she needed help to feed them.

She was given $150 worth of food parcels and other essentials.

June 2012 to December 2012:
Lynn Stevens is added to Bush's growing list of aliases. Lynn tells staff at Royal Oak that she has a 6-year-old in her care named Joseph and she needs food.

Just before Christmas she would tell staff that she needed food, gifts and toys.

This would be her stint of scamming the Royal Oak branch. She was given $655 over that time.

August 2013:
Barbara Fields contacts the Salvation Army in Albany. She is concerned for her friend Gwenda who had just arrived in Auckland from a Women's Refuge in Hamilton.

Gwenda had cancer, Fields said, and needed help.

Gwenda Bush-Kaihe then went to Albany staff for help, saying she had three children in her care - David, 12, Peter, 11 and Blaine, 6.

She told a Salvation Army volunteer that her grandson was staying with her and she "had no food".

She was given a food parcel but later called the volunteer to say it had been eaten and she needed another. The second parcel was valued at $115.

Police would later establish that Barbara Fields was in fact, Bush.

August 29, 2013:
"My grandson has a heart condition."

Bush calls the Salvation Army back asking for more help. The child, she says also has severe asthma and she is struggling financially.

On this occasion she is given a toaster, kettle and chest of drawers - $275 worth of goods.

August 30, 2013:
Bush tells the Albany staff that she is a police witness against her ex-husband for a court case in Hamilton.

Victim Support was contacted, but Bush backed out of her story saying she was no longer needed in court as her ex was in prison.

"She further stated that there was a problem with her ANZ bank account because of an overdraft due to her ex-husband," police said.

Bush was given a food parcel worth $110.

Police have confirmed that Bush was never a witness in any case against her ex-husband. Remember here that Bush has only been married once, in the early 1970s.

September 9, 2013:
Bush goes back to staff at Albany. Her cancer has "returned".

She tells staff that chemotherapy and radiation are "not an option".

"She stated that there was a new drug available if she could source $3000 initially, then $1500 each successive month for six months," the summary revealed.

A staffer gave Bush $300 of her own money for the drug trial.

Bush then claimed that her landlord had asked for a bed back and she was given a bed, mattress and food parcel to the value of $300.

Police investigations reveal that Bush has never had or been treated for cancer.

Medical records obtained from Waikato District Health Board, Auckland DHB, Counties Manukau DHB and Waitemata DHB have established that the defendant does not have, nor has ever had, cancer in the mouth, spine or hands.

She has never received any medical treatment or chemotherapy for cancer at any of these hospitals.

Police Summary of Facts

From September 2013 the offending has escalated.

September 11, 2013:
Bush said she needed "light food" for her cancer treatment, set to start the next day. The Salvation Army sends an $80 food parcel.

September 16, 2013:
Bush needs clothing and linen because her ex-husband has burned all of hers.

She also tells the Albany staff that her TV, video and DVD were on loan and the person she borrowed them from needed them back.

Staff tell her that they cannot help with those items but the computer they have loaned her - with the internet paid for by the Salvation Army - could be used to watch shows and play DVDs.

She is given $86 worth of clothing.

September 23, 2013:
Bush tells staff that the water mains have broken at her flat and she has no food or water.

She also asks for shelving as she could not reach things with her right arm due to "the tumour on her spine".

Bush is given a TV, food and water valued at $105.

October 3, 2013:
Bush reports that she needs "high shelves, a chest of drawers, a TV aerial, a DVD player and a food processor".

She is told that staff will see if they can source the items from a Salvation Army Family Store.

October 4, 2013:
Bush is back, asking for "gifts and treats" for her "grandson" Blaine's 7th birthday.

"The defendant also asked for soft food due to the tumours in her mouth," police said.

She is given a bed, desk, fridge/freezer, coffee table and soft food.

The total amount of items given to Bush on these dates is $398.

October 11, 2013:
Bush needs a new fridge as hers has "just blown up". The Salvation Army help her sign a contract for a new fridge.

November 13, 2013:
After a small break from begging, Bush contacts the Albany branch again.

She is given toys, treats and a food parcel valued at $110.

December 24, 2013:
Bush wants Christmas assistance after telling staff she had "no money" and her children were visiting.

She is given more toys, gifts and a Christmas hamper worth $285.

January 9, 2014:
Bush calls the Albany branch with a new sob story.

"Her money and phone were stolen from the hospital while she was undergoing [cancer] treatment. She further stated that her neighbour was breaking into her bedsit and stealing food," police said.

A food parcel worth $75 was delivered.

January 10, 2014:
Now Bush's neighbour is stealing her gifts and toiletries, along with the food.

Her "grandson" Jacob is also unwell and she tells staff that the boy has a "congenital heart condition" and had "relapsed and was in a coma in Wellington Hospital on life support".

She later said that the boy had been "flown to Gisborne to his mother's marae so he could die".

Bush's lies went further. She needed nutrition to "fight her cancer" and "foods high in sugar were best".

Another food parcel was sent, $100 worth this time.

January 17, 2014:
"The defendant has told the victim that her phone network had been cancelled and her bank had put a block on [the provider] taking any more money from her account," the summary stated.

She told the victim her grandson was not expected to last the night.
Police Summary of Facts

An $85 food parcel was sent.

January 20, 2014:
Bush can't afford the repayment instalment for her new fridge. The Salvation Army foot the $32 bill.

January 21, 2014:
Bush calls the Albany staff. Her "grandson has died".

The staff send her flowers.

Bush also complains that her cellphone is not working and she wants a new one.

January 24, 2014:
A Salvation Army staffer takes Bush to the Warehouse to buy a new phone after she persists in saying one they gave her when hers was "stolen" from the hospital is faulty.

Bush tells staff that because of the cancerous tumours in her hands she cannot use an older-style phone and "needed a smart phone".

The cheapest smart phone available is purchased for Bush, at a cost of $200.

February 3, 2014:
Bush claims she has no money for food. She is sent a food parcel worth $95.

February 13, 2014:
No money for food. Again. Another $95 worth of items are provided to Bush.

March 3, 2014:
Bush says her "neighbours" upstairs need help. She's told that they will have to contact the Salvation Army themselves.

While she's at it, she asks for a food parcel for herself. Another $95 worth of items are delivered.

April 14, 2014:
With her "grandsons being brought to stay" Bush needs more help. She has no food.

The Salvation Army send a package valued at $95.

May 2, 2014:
Bush says her grandsons are coming to stay for a few days from Australia.

"They would give video evidence in a case being laid against their former foster mother who had abused and neglected them," police said in the summary.

Another $95 food parcel was delivered.

May 13, 2014:
Bush gets yet another food parcel worth $95.

June 6, 2014:
"The defendant contacted the victim stating she had been unwell due to the cancer treatment and needed nutrition. She also stated that her heater had stopped working and she was very cold," police said.

Bush was given a food parcel and heater purchased from Bunnings, totalling $140.

June 13, 2014:
Bush tells the Salvation Army that her temporary disability allowance had been "cut off".

The benefit would be "sorted out by Friday" but until then she had no food.

A food parcel valued at $115 was sent to her.

June 27, 2014:
Again, Bush's phone is "faulty".

The phone was sent back to the Warehouse where it had been purchased and sent away for repair. A basic phone was purchased for $80 to tide her over.

August 22, 2014:
Suspicions are creeping in at the Salvation Army in Albany.

Staff contact Bush and question her about "Barbara" who had initially contacted them about her plight.

She is asked for Barbara's surname. Bush says "Stevens".

Staff check their records and find that the initial contact was from Barbara Fields.

Bush is cut off from all assistance from the Salvation Army and police are notified.

The victims:

The Salvation Army have declined to comment on Bush's offending, labelled "appalling" by Judge Jonathan Downs.

He went on to say Bush had the "worst" list of previous convictions he had "ever" seen in his 35 years in the criminal justice system.

Detective Kellie Osborne, who led the investigation into Bush's most recent offending, spoke out about the impact on the victims.

"In the entire 10 years that I've been a police officer, this is the most abhorrent type of fraud that I've investigated," she told the Herald after Bush was sentenced on Monday.

The Salvation Army relies on the generosity of the public, they offer amazing help to people who are in genuine and desperate need. Bush has totally exploited the kindness, concern and care of their staff.

The web of lies she built over many years has deeply affected all of the staff who tried to help her. Her lies were appalling and she has done a disservice to the many genuine people who need help from organisations like the Salvation Army.

Detective Kellie Osborne

- NZ Herald

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