Luton treasurer jailed for theft from parish centre


A well respected treasurer for St. Joseph's Parish centre in Luton stole almost £80,000 to fund a gambling addiction.

On Friday, 09 March 2012, James Varnals, 63, was jailed for 16-months when he appeared at Luton Crown Court.

Judge Richard Foster said he was jailing him with "a heavy heart" and said it was a tragedy to see him in the dock.

Varnals, of St. Margaret's Avenue, Luton pleaded guilty to the theft between July 2008 and March 2011.

Sandra Beck, for the Crown Prosecution Service said it had been agreed that Varnals stole £79,804 and confiscation proceedings will be held to recover any assets. She said that as treasurer he had sole responsibility for the income from the Catholic centre's bar. But he would repeatedly enter less money on the expenditure sheet than had been recorded by the bar manager, and keep the balance.

"Inquiries came about because there were financial difficulties at the centre. A committee member who was an accountant looked at the books and saw the discrepancies.

"Police were informed and during his second interview he admitted he had taken the money. He said he had a severe gambling addiction and did not realise how much money he had taken. He said he was waiting for the one big gambling success to pay it back, " said Miss Beck.

Stuart Sprawson, defending said: "He was not stealing from the Church. These were not Church funds. It was rather amateurish and it was only a matter of time before he would eventually be caught."

Mr. Sprawson said: "He had led a blameless life and had lived and breathed Vauxhall until it had closed. He received a not inconsiderate sum of money which he frittered away, and deceived all his family and friends about how he was behaving.

"He became ill with that addiction, which had started from playing Bingo. He seems to be over it now."

The solicitor said Varnals was likely to lose his house as part of the confiscation proceedings.

Judge Foster told Varnals: "It is tragic to see you standing there in the dock. Like many you have been a backbone to this town, working your way up in Vauxhall to become a middle manager. You were successful and respected, and then you had to face redundancy.

"But you stole this money which you knew was not yours. It could have been spent on the centre or other charitable purposes. You should have fought your addiction. An immediate custodial sentence is the only option given my public duty but I do so with a heavy heart."

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