A former bishop has been jailed for stealing £186,000 from church funds after a court heard he was conned into sending some of the cash to online scammers in Africa.
Disgraced magistrate Gerald Edmund, 77, of Bristol, only realised he had been duped by the promise of a 24million dollar (£15 million) inheritance after his thefts from the Bethel United Church of Jesus Christ were exposed. Jailing Edmund for two years, Judge Melbourne Inman QC accepted some of the stolen funds had been sent to bogus lawyers in the Ivory Coast.
Birmingham Crown Court heard Edmund was tricked into believing he had been left millions of pounds in the will of a religious follower based in The Congo. The clergyman, of Lansdown Road in the city, admitted pocketing £14,000 of petty cash, transferring £15,000 out of a church account, and cashing cheques totalling £157,000 while serving as a church treasurer and trustee in West Bromwich.
Said by his counsel to be a "broken man" after pleading guilty to fraud and two counts of theft, Edmund is known to have transferred at least £15,000 abroad.
Passing sentence, Judge Inman told the retired pastor: "You were able to take the money because of the high degree of trust that was placed in you by your church. You were a trustee, a member of the Executive Board, General Secretary, and second only to the presiding chairman.
"You had effective control of the bank accounts, which enabled you to fool a co-signatory into signing blank cheques."
Pointing out that the dishonesty had covered a six-month period, the judge added: "It came to light only when the church found that it had insufficient money in its account to pay its bills.
"It is accepted that you were yourself the victim of a scam or a fraud sadly all too familiar, where somebody contacted you from Africa and persuaded you to part with money in advance, in the hope of ridiculously large sums of money being gratuitously willed or gifted to you.
"I accept that part of this money went because of your involvement in that fraud."
Prosecutor Geoffrey Dann said Edmund was overseeing his church's headquarters, the Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, when the offences were committed between July 2010 and February 2011.
When confronted by church officials, Mr Dann said, Edmund initially claimed to be in financial difficulties and offered to pay the money back after selling two houses.
Satvir Aujla, defending, told the court her client had been a very dedicated member of the church over many years and now suffered from ill-health.
Mrs Aujla said: "He stands in the dock feeling ashamed and humiliated. He, having built his reputation over decades, has been tarnished now."
Edmund was given a conditional discharge in 2001 for making false statements on a passport application when he was a magistrate.