A PRIEST who absconded from court last week, just as a jury was finding him guilty of stealing fees, has handed himself in.
The Rector of Farnham, the Revd Simon Reynolds, a former succentor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, had been on trial at Sheffield Crown Court over allegations that he retained an estimated £24,000 from the Wakefield Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) and the PCC of All Saints’ in Darton, near Barnsley, where he had been Priest-in-Charge between 2007 and 2013.
The 50-year-old clergyman left the court at lunchtime on Thursday, but did not return. The jury delivered their four guilty verdicts in the afternoon. A warrant was issued for his arrest and Interpol was alerted. Senior clergy, including the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev Tony Robinson, expressed concerns for his welfare.
South Yorkshire Police reported on Monday afternoon that Mr Reynolds had handed himself in at a police station in Sheffield. He was to appear in court on Tuesday. The four charges related to the retention of fees for funerals, weddings, burials, and churchyard monuments.
During the trial, the jury were told that investigations in to Mr Reynolds’ conduct began after he had left Darton. The church treasurer received a cheque from a stonemason payable to Mr Reynolds rather than the PCC. The treasurer discovered that, during Reynolds’ time in Darton, there were years in which no fees for weddings and funerals had been paid to the DBF.
In 2008, Mr Reynolds declared and remitted £555 in fees to the DBF rather than the £1200 that was due. The prosecution described Reynolds’ record keeping as "seriously lacking", and said no records could be found for 23 monuments that had been identified in the churchyard.
The court was told that Mr Reynolds had retained £14,600 in fees for weddings and funerals that should have gone to the DBF, and an estimated £9726 in fees for burials and monuments that should have gone to the PCC.
In police interviews, Mr Reynolds said that he had passed on the fees, and that he could not explain where the missing money had gone. He told police that he was "very disorganised, and he certainly had not kept it intentionally," the prosecutor said.
"The consequences of Simon’s actions have been felt far and wide," the Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Ven. Peter Townley, said. "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."
Archdeacon Townley said that, since January 2013 the C of E had standardised the collection of funeral and wedding fees, and that these now go to the relevant DBF and PCC, "and are not left for the incumbent to declare at the end of each year".
The diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales had, he said, carefully reviewed its 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."
The Archdeacon of Surrey, the Ven. Stuart Beake, paid tribute to the churchwardens and visiting clergy for maintaining the mission and ministry at St Andrew’s in Farnham.
"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," he said.
"Now that a verdict has been reached in the case, the parish can begin to plan for the future; but we will have to await details of sentencing before determining the appropriate disciplinary outcome from the process Simon will face as a result of the conviction. Simon remains suspended, pending sentencing."