A clergyman has been sentenced after being found guilty of retaining funeral fees.
Andrew Hawthorne, 51, of Arnewood Road, Bournemouth should have paid the fees to the Winchester Diocesan Board of Finance.
Today (Monday 24 June), Hawthorne was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court, after a jury found him guilty of fraud by abuse of position and fraud by false representation after a trial in May.
The trial heard the fraud by abuse of position offence related to a period between December 2009 and August 2013, when Hawthorne was an Assistant Curate in Christchurch, Dorset.
The trial was told Hawthorne did not remit fees to the Diocese of Winchester for funerals that he officiated, or declare that he had officiated them, as he was required to do. The court heard he received up to £49,059.25 during that period.
The fraud by false representation offence related to a later period when Hawthorne had been received into the Catholic Church, but still received some £3,097.10 in housing allowance from the Diocesan Board of Finance.
He did not notify his previous employers that he was still receiving the allowance and used it to pay off personal debts, the trial heard.
The court heard that the Diocese of Winchester had suspended Hawthorne in 2012 following concerns about financial irregularities. Evidence from a subsequent clergy tribunal in 2015 was passed to Hampshire Constabulary, leading to an investigation.
Today Hawthorne was sentenced to a total of two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
He was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
Proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act are now underway.
Detective Constable Lorraine Bell said: “Today’s sentence comes after a long and complex investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit.
“Hawthorne had previously claimed that he was entitled to keep the fees as a result of an agreement he said had been made locally.
“Witnesses from the Diocese made clear that this wasn’t the case and Hawthorne’s actions flouted rules within the church over a long period of time.
“I hope this result sends a message to those who commit fraud that their actions won’t go unnoticed and we will investigate regardless of anticipated difficulties or longevity.
“If you suspect someone of fraud, then please report it.”