THE Rector of Farnham, the Revd Simon Reynolds, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, after being found guilty of stealing fees from his former parish and the diocese of Wakefield.
He will serve an additional two months in prison for absconding from Sheffield Crown Court as the jury was deliberating on Thursday of last week. Mr Reynolds had walked out of the court without permission during the lunch recess and not returned.
Mr Reynolds (right) flew to Düsseldorf in Germany — because, his barrister Alasdair Campbell said, he was “fleeing from what, personally, he was feeling” rather than the court process.
A manhunt was launched by South Yorkshire Police, and Interpol was alerted; but a friend of Mr Reynolds drove him back to the UK, and he handed himself into police on Monday.
Mr Reynolds, a former canon succentor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, was found guilty of stealing fees that should have gone to the PCC of All Saints’, Darton, near Barnsley, where he had been Priest-in-Charge between 2007 and 2013, and to the diocese of Wakefield.
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 into Mr Reynolds’s conduct began after he had left Darton, and the church treasurer received a cheque from a stonemason payable to the priest rather than to the PCC. The treasurer discovered that, during Mr Reynolds’s time in Darton, there had been some years in which no fees for weddings and funerals had been paid to the diocesan board of finance (DBF).
In 2008, Mr Reynolds declared and remitted £555 in fees to the DBF rather than the £1200 that was due. The prosecution described the defendant’s record-keeping as “seriously lacking”, and said that no records could be found for 23 monuments that had been identified in the churchyard.
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 court was told that Mr Reynolds had retained £14,600 in fees for weddings and funerals which should have gone to the DBF, and an estimated £9726 in fees for burials and monuments which should have gone to the PCC.
Sentencing, Judge Julian Goose QC said that Mr Reynolds had taken at least £16,500, and ordered that he serve 30 months in prison, plus a further two months for absconding.
“It is hard to imagine a more deplorable and flagrant breach of trust than a vicar stealing money from his own parishioners,” the senior Crown prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humber, Caroline Tubb, said after the hearing.
“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.”
The Archdeacon of Pontefract, the Ven. Peter Townley, said: “The consequences of Simon’s actions have been felt far and wide. 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 went to the relevant DBF and PCC, “and were not left for the incumbent to declare at the end of each year”.
The diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales — successor to the diocese of Wakefield — had, he said, “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”.
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, 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.
“We are pleased that the judicial process has now been concluded, and that the parishes involved can move on. This has been a saddening and difficult trial, and we continue to hold Simon and all those affected in our prayers.”
Mr Reynolds currently remains suspended by the Bishop of Guildford, pending the completion of an internal disciplinary process.