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Trust defrauded again

07 February 2014


THE man brought in to create a "new start" for the charitable trust behind an Anglican religious order, after a former trustee pleaded guilty to defrauding it 18 months ago, has himself now been sentenced after he, too, admitted defrauding the charity.

In July 2012, Brother James Simon, under his lay name of Dr Morley Stuart, was given a conditional discharge by Westminster magistrates after he admitted stealing £3750 from the Fellowship of St John the Evangelist (UK) Trust Association (News, 17 August 2012). The trust oversees the Society of Mission Priests of St John the Evangelist, known as the Cowley Fathers.

The Revd Charles Card-Reynolds, who chairs the trust, said at the time that a new executive officer, Geoff Hammond, of Sollershott East, in Letchworth Garden City, marked "a new start for the trust". But now Mr Hammond has admitted stealing almost £100,000 from the charity.

He was sentenced to 12 months at Southwark Crown Court.

In a statement, the trustees said that the missing funds were identified as a result of "internal financial controls" that had been put in place after the earlier fraud. Mr Hammond has since repaid the money to the Trust, together with its costs.

"It is always sad when someone feels that stealing and the associated deception offers them the chance of financial redemption," the Trust said, in a written response to the Church Times. "Inevitably, this is illusory and the consequences have to be faced."

Figures lodged with the Charity Commission show that, in the four years from 2008, the charity spent more than half a million pounds more than it had received in income. Its 2012 accounts have not been filed, and are three months' overdue.

The trustees say that the theft has caused "minimal disruption", and that after the Fathers' Westminster monastery, St Edward's House, was sold to Westminster School in May 2012, their mission and education work - including parish development, the creation of the Father Benson Scholarship, and acting as benefactor for pastoral placement schemes and clergy sabbaticals - "continues as before but now on a larger scale for the sake of the Kingdom of Christ".

The Society was founded by Richard Meux Benson in Cowley, Oxford, in 1866. St Stephen's House, an Anglican theological college at the University of Oxford, has historical ties with the trust, but is a separate organisation.

The Charity Commission said that after the charity sent a "serious incident report", it met the trustees and advisers to give the charity a "comprehensive action-plan."

"The charity was given until 1 March 2014 to satisfy us on issues regarding this incident and the charity's general governance," a spokesperson said. "They have been informed that if we are not satisfied with the actions they take then we may use our powers under the Charities Act 2011 to further investigate the charity's operation."

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