Trustees of the Helston Downsland Charity have publicly apologised to townspeople after being duped out of more than £300,000 by a crooked former solicitor.

Feelings ran high at a public meeting on Monday intended to shed new light on the fraud - not least because the 100-strong audience was kept waiting for almost two hours before any such apology was forthcoming.

Residents were offered the chance to quiz trustees over how their former clerk, Nicholas Walker, had been able to siphon off a large proportion of the charity's funds without anyone noticing.

But at the meeting, it was the charity's solicitor, Brian Peters, who fielded almost all the questions. In response to a query about Mr Walker's credentials from local resident Linda Spelman, Mr Peters said two references had been taken up and had appeared to be satisfactory. More thorough investigations had not been carried out because it was never intended that Walker should have controls of the charity's finances.

It was now thought neither of the references had been genuine, added Mr Peters.

The solicitor revealed that around £225,000 was left in the Downsland pot, but said he was confident almost all the missing money would be recovered.

The charity is pursuing compensation claims against a bank and an investment company, but Mr Peters said the indications were that the matter would be settled out of court.

Civil proceedings against Walker are also expected to be launched, but are unlikely to be progressed.

Former town councillor Keith Reynolds asked why no-one had looked at any bank statements during the lengthy period Walker was being given free rein to plunder the charity's coffers.

Mr Peters replied that the trustees had relied on the accounts, which were submitted to the Charity Commission but which were later found to have been forged by Walker.

"Did nobody ever ask where was the bill from the accountants?" queried Mr Reynolds, to which Mr Peters responded: "Apparently nobody did."

Helston resident John Mitchell said the missing money was not as important as the damage the whole episode had caused to the town's reputation.

"Our town's integrity has taken a very severe knock. People are laughing at us," he said. "The trustees should do the honourable thing and stand down en bloc. That might go some way to restoring a bit of civic pride."

Mr Mitchell's call for a mass resignation was not backed by other townspeople at the meeting, including Margot Douglas, who said the trustees should remain in office until the whole matter was brought to a conclusion.

The move was also rejected by representatives of the Charity Commission who were observing the proceedings.

There was unanimous support, however, for a statement from resident Pam Schofield, who said she was deeply disappointed by the trustees' behaviour.

"I came here hoping for an apology, but there has been not one word of regret from anybody. You have taken responsibility for nothing. I feel you have let the whole thing slide and it is very disappointing."

Spurred on by Mrs Schofield's comments, deputy mayor Paul Phillips did proffer an apology.

Some time later, the rest of the trustees stood in turn to apologise, several saying they felt ashamed and embarrassed by what had happened.

Town mayor and current chairman of the trustees Nick Martin admitted he had been completely taken in by Walker. "I was fooled by the gentleman in question," he said.

"He came across as a very professional person. When he arrived and presented his credentials I thought it was Christmas."

"So did he!" responded one member of the public.

Mr Martin brought the evening to a conclusion, saying matters were now in the capable hands of Mr Peters - a man who certainly had Helston's best interests at heart.

Plans were afoot to change the change the charity's constitution so that town councillors did not automatically become trustees, and other independent people were brought onto the board.

A charity commission investigation is on-going and a report will be issued at a later date.