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King's Lynn charity thought huge bequest was a scam

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An email announcing a bequest of $500,000 (£380,000) to a Lynn-based charity was almost ignored as a scam, its officers have said.

The extraordinary news had been sent from an attorney in Florida to the West Norfolk Music Centre (WNMC), which meets at Springwood High School on Saturday mornings, offering tuition to both children and adults in a range of choirs, orchestras and small groups.

But fortunately one of its trustees, Conrad Meehan, had some insight into such scams via his job as a trading standards officer and something told him it just might be for real.

Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts (26264163)
Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts (26264163)

Mr Meehan said: “It came out of the blue. We got an email from a lawyere in Florida and we thought it was a scam. It took quite a lot of checking to believe it was genuine and the money was in their account.”

The generous donation was one of eight made to charities in Britain by husband and wife Michael Janson and Varuni Roberts.

The couple were completely unknown to anyone at the WNMC but Mr Meehan said: “In my job I have seen hundreds of scams in my time and I thought it was worth checking and was able to find the lawyer was registered with the Florida bar.”

West Norfolk Music Centre Christmas concert. (26264169)
West Norfolk Music Centre Christmas concert. (26264169)

That initial contact was made in February 2018, shortly after Michael had died. It has taken almost two years to sort out the intricacies of the bequest and for it to be announced publicly.

The couple also left money to the Norwich music charity, NORCA.

Mr Meehan said: “The big unanswered question is why they left us the money. Varuni was born in Scotland and several Scottish charities also benefitted but we don’t know of any Norfolk connection.”

Michael was a pathologist from New England who became a well-known exponent of alternative medicine.

The music-loving couple moved to Florida in 2003 spending summers in Britain.

Varuni was stricken by ALS (motor neurone disease) in 2016. She passed away in the spring of 2017 and Michael died three months later, quite literally of a broken heart.

They were mourned by hundreds of friends from all over the world who cherished the memory of their friendship and shared experiences.

Although they were childless, they loved children and took great pleasure in attending youth recitals.

Near the end of their lives, they decided to generously share their financial blessings with several children’s charities in the UK.

The money is to be put into an endowment making an income for the charity of some £10,000 a year.

WNMC intends to invest in the long-term future of music education in the area and investment income will support musical activities and projects year after year. Projects for 2020 include a workshoop for players of string instruments in May and support for classical music events, in partnership with the Snettisham-based charity Classical Music Rocks.

Derek Stringer, WNMC chair, said: “This amazing gift from Michael and Varauni will help us to offer more and better chances for local people and in particular young people, to enjoy the benefits of making music.

“We are keen to work with partners locally to develop and deliver exciting projects and activities and to engage new audiences.”

Mr Meehan said WNMC hoped in future to do something dedicated to the memory of its generous benefactors.

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