Runaway vicar Simon Reynolds has been jailed today for stealing thousands of pounds of church funds - and then fleeing to Germany in a bid to evade justice.
Reynolds, aged 50, was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court today on the basis that he had taken ‘at least’ £16,500 over six years while he worked at All Saints Church in Darton, near Barnsley.
The court heard he had pocketed the money despite the church being in need of funds to pay for a £40,000 repair job on its roof.
Reynolds had disappeared from court last Thursday lunchtime as a jury was out considering its verdict on him following a six-day trial.
His barrister Alasdair Campbell said today that Reynolds had been suffering from ‘real personal trauma’ when he made his escape bid.
“What he tells me is that he was not fleeing the process, but was fleeing from how he was feeling,” he said.
Mr Campbell said Reynolds had meant to catch a flight to Dublin, but accidentally booked a ticket to Dusseldorf.
Reynolds’ disappearance sparked a Europe-wide search for him, with police involving Interpol and senior clergy appealing for him to return.
He stayed in Germany with a friend and returned to the UK by ferry on Sunday, before voluntarily handing himself in to police in Sheffield on Monday morning.
Mr Campbell said Reynolds, who had worked at St Paul’s Cathedral before moving to South Yorkshire in 2007, was not equipped to deal with administrative duties of being a priest-in-charge.
But Judge Julian Goose QC, said he was ‘unimpressed’ with the argument that the money had gone missing because of Reynolds’ poor bookkeeping skills.
The prosecution had argued during the trial that around £25,000 had been taken by Reynolds, with Mr Campbell saying today the figure now accepted by the defence was around £13,000.
Judge Goose said by his calculations, at least £16,500 had been taken.
Sentencing, he told Reynolds that he had ‘dishonestly and deliberately understated what was due’ to Darton All Saints Parochial Parish Council and Wakefield Diocesan Board of Finance.
Reynolds 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 there were 32 marriages conducted by Reynolds in which he received fees from couples and kept some of the money for himself.
“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,” he said.
“A community who let you into their homes and their lives have had their trust broken by what you did,” he said.
Reynolds, now of Upper Church Lane, Surrey, was given 30 months in jail for four offences of theft said to have occurred between 2007 and 2013.
He was given an additional two months in jail after admitting to a bail breach offence.
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 in Surrey.
Caroline Tubb, Senior Crown Prosecutor for 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.”
Following today’s hearing, the Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Ven. Peter Townley, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by this crime.
“We deeply regret any further pain caused to those families who paid fees to Simon for funerals and our hope is that this conviction now affords some peace.
“The consequences of Simon’s actions have been felt far and wide, not least by parishioners here in Darton but also in Farnham, Surrey, to where he moved in March 2013.
“It is of course a matter of deep disappointment when a member of clergy acts in anything other than an exemplary manner.
“Simon, as with all other members of clergy, received training and advice on how to handle all fees paid to him directly and the court has found that he knowingly flouted this advice and kept the money for himself.
“Since January 2013 the Church of England has standardised the collection of both funeral and wedding fees which are now due to the relevant Diocesan Board of Finance and to the Parochial Church Council and not left for the incumbent to declare at the end of each year.
“Here in the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales we have carefully reviewed our procedures and will continue to ensure that measures are in place so that all members of clergy are fully aware of their responsibilities and we can minimise the possibility of anything like this happening again.
“I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the sterling work of the South Yorkshire Police and particularly for their painstaking attention to detail and for all their help and support to the Parish and Diocese in these upsetting times.”
The Archdeacon of Surrey, the Ven Stuart Beake, has helped to find support for Reynolds’ parish of St Andrew’s Church since he was suspended in November 2013.
He said: “I would like to pay tribute to the churchwardens at St Andrew’s Church who have led the parish through the vacancy before Simon’s arrival and then since his suspension just months later. I would also like to thank the many clergy who have helped worship to continue at St Andrew’s through this time.
“While none of the offences took place in Farnham, the ramifications have certainly been felt and yet St Andrew’s has continued to serve its community offering a range of groups, services, events and music in the centre of town.”
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