A FORMER priest has been found guilty of fraud, after he took almost £50,000 in funeral fees.
Andrew Hawthorne, aged 51, of Southbourne, Dorset, a former Assistant Curate of Holy Trinity, Christchurch, near Bournemouth, was found guilty on two counts of fraud after an earlier trial. He was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Mr Hawthorne was initially suspended while financial discrepancies were being investigated in 2012 (News, 7 September 2012).
Winchester Crown Court heard that he had dishonestly kept funeral fees — £49,000 between 2009 and 2013 — and that he claimed more than £3000 from the C of E for housing allowance, after he had joined the Roman Catholic Church.
He also continued to hold funeral services at Bournemouth Crematorium, despite his suspension from the Church.
The BBC reported that Judge Richard Parkes QC said: “Bereaved families had their services for their loved ones held by a man . . . who had no authority to act as a priest.”
Judge Parkes also told the court that Mr Hawthorne had defrauded the Church of money that should have been spent on “good, charitable causes”.
Mr Hawthorne had initially been told in 2012 by Dorset Police that he would not face prosecution, before being charged by Hampshire Constabulary. Judge Parkes said that this contributed to the decision to hand down a suspended sentence.
He maintained his innocence outside the court.
The chief executive of the Winchester diocesan board of finance, Andrew Robinson, said this week: “Andrew Hawthorne’s conduct in personally retaining funeral fees constituted a serious breach of the trust placed in clergy by churches, communities, and families seeking the ministry of the Church at times of great sadness and vulnerability.
“The diocese suspended him in 2012, after we uncovered financial irregularities. In 2015, a clergy discipline tribunal ruled that he had been dishonest in retaining a very significant sum in fees he was not entitled to keep.
“After that tribunal concluded, we passed all of the evidence to the police, and we have been working closely with Hampshire Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit on this case since then. We are grateful for their thorough investigation of such a complex fraud case, which has resulted in his conviction for a very serious crime.”