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On-the-run vicar jailed for church fees thefts

Published 28/07/2015

Church of England vicar Simon Reynolds was convicted of stealing thousands of pounds
Church of England vicar Simon Reynolds was convicted of stealing thousands of pounds

A vicar who went on the run to Germany just before he was convicted of stealing thousands of pounds has been jailed for two years and eight months.

Simon Reynolds, 50, took more than £16,500 handed over to All Saints Church in Darton, Barnsley, for weddings, funerals and churchyard memorials.

He was jailed at Sheffield Crown Court by Judge Julian Goose QC who heard that Reynolds fled to Dusseldorf as the jury deliberated last week.

He handed himself in to South Yorkshire Police yesterday in an arranged appointment.

Reynolds left Sheffield Crown Court on Thursday lunchtime after the jury went out to consider its verdicts on four counts of theft against him.

He never returned and a Europe-wide search began, with police involving Interpol and senior clergy appealing for the vicar to come back.

Alasdair Cambell, defending, told the judge that his client first went to his Sheffield hotel before travelling to Manchester Airport.

The barrister said Reynolds then meant to go Dublin but, in a state of stress, booked a flight to Dusseldorf instead, where he stayed with a friend.

Mr Campbell said this friend drove him back to his home in Farnham in Surrey, and the defendant then made his way to meet police in Sheffield.

He told the court: "He told me that he was not, in fact, fleeing from the process but he was fleeing from what, personally, he was feeling."

Last week, the jury heard that Reynolds had pocketed cash given to him as fees for weddings and funerals as well as others relating to memorials in the churchyards.

He should have paid this money to the diocese or the parochial church council.

Prosecutors said the appaling state of Reynolds' book-keeping meant it was difficult to say how much he took but estimated it was more than £24,000.

Mr Campbell argued that the figure in question was much lower than this and Judge Goose decided, having listened to all the evidence, that he would sentence on the basis that Reynolds took at least £16,500.

Reynolds, of Upper Church Lane, Farnham, stood in the dock wearing a blue and white checked shirt and blue trousers to listen to the judge's sentencing remarks, flanked by a single security guard.

Judge Goose said he had listened to a lot of evidence about Reynolds' terrible administration skills and decided this was not relevant.

He said: "I'm not impressed with that explanation. It seems to me that training and deficiencies in administration had very little to do with the dishonesty you have undertaken."

The judge said he had identified 32 individual marriages for which Reynolds appears to have pocketed the fees.

He said: "You were quite obviously in a position of a high degree of trust, not just by the church and the Diocesan Board of Finance but also by the parishioners, the wardens and the the treasurer who worked closely with you."

The judge told him: "Your community, who allowed you into their home and their lives, have had their trust broken by what you did."

The court heard that, prior to being priest-in-charge at Darton, Reynolds was a curate in Exeter and, before that, a minor canon at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

He left Darton in 2013 to be a priest-in-charge in Farnham.

Reynolds was jailed for 30 months for theft and Judge Goose added a further two months for breaching his bail when he went on the run.

Caroline Tubb, Senior Crown Prosecutor, CPS Yorkshire and Humberside, said: " It is hard to imagine a more deplorable and flagrant breach of trust than a vicar stealing money from his own parishioners.

"The offences he has committed are of an enormous significance considering the position of trust that Reynolds held within his community. The qualities one would most associate with his position - honesty, trust and integrity - have been completely abandoned in an attempt to fund his lifestyle.

"These offences were further compounded when he absconded after his trial, triggering an extensive manhunt. The sentence handed down today sends a clear message that no-one is above the law, and we will prosecute all such cases robustly."

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