Suffolk vicar Ian Finn denies fraud worth £13,000
- Credit: Archant
A Suffolk clergyman accused of a £13,000 fraud involving church fees blamed incompetence rather than dishonesty when he was challenged about the missing money, a court has heard.
Ian Finn, who was parish rector at the St Mary The Virgin Church in Haverhill at the time of the alleged fraud between 2007 and 2014, expressed “horror, bewilderment and embarrassment” at the amount involved and admitted he “wasn’t good with paperwork or figures”, Ipswich Crown Court was told.
Charles Myatt, prosecuting, said that in a letter to the Diocesan Board of Finance, Finn said his attention had been focused on other aspects of his work and he hadn’t paid the attention he should have to financial matters.
“I have worked hard to be professional and to keep high standards in many other aspects of my priesthood,” he said in the letter.
Concerns were initially raised about Finn’s record-keeping in relation to church fees by his curate Manette Crossman and Finn was invited to attend an informal meeting with Archdeacon David Jenkins on February 8 last year.
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“During the meeting he was asked if he had anything to say and he said he didn’t know if there was and he would need to go home and check,” said Mr Myatt.
The next day Finn produced a two page document containing a number of errors he had made going back seven years which he calculated to involve £18,000.
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He had subsequently transferred £18,096.50 – which had come from his godmother – to the Diocesan Board of Finance, said Mr Myatt.
Finn, 55, of Hopton Rise, Haverhill, has denied fraud by abuse of position between June 2007 and March 2014 in respect of £13,237 in church service fees.
Mr Myatt told the court that Finn had been responsible for collecting fees for church services including weddings, reading out wedding banns, funerals and cremations.
The fees should then have been divided up with some being paid to the Diocesan Board of Finance and other amounts going to the Parochial Church Council (PCC), the church organist and others.
Mr Myatt said that Finn was paid an annual stipend and didn’t receive extra money for conducting weddings and funerals. However he was allowed to submit expense claims but this was separate from the fees.
“We say that he didn’t pay fees totalling £13,000 across to the Diocesan Board of Finance over a period of seven years,” alleged Mr Myatt.
He claimed that in December 2012 a letter was sent out to the clergy asking them to attend a training session about new financial procedures.
Finn attended a training session in February 2013 during which he was informed about new guidelines which advised that money should not be handled directly by the clergy.
Mr Myatt said that when Finn started at St Mary The Virgin in 2007, funeral directors had paid the PCC directly. However Finn had allegedly changed the system and had got funeral directors to pay him cash or make cheques payable to him.
He said that in spite of being told in February 2013 that money should not be handled directly by the clergy, Finn had continued to be paid by cheque or cash throughout 2013.
Finn had two personal bank accounts one of which his stipend was paid into and the other fees were paid into and Mr Myatt alleged there was “some blurring” between church business and Finn’s personal business.
Giving evidence Nicholas Edgell, chief executive officer of the Diocesan Board of Finance, accepted that although Finn was only accused of fraud in relation to £13,000 the £4,859 balance from the £18,000 paid by him had not been returned to him.
The trial, which is expected to end later this week, continues today.