Former priest sentenced for fraudulently retaining funeral fees
A former Assistant Curate was today at Winchester Crown Court sentenced to two years' imprisonment suspended for two years for committing fraud by abusing his position in retaining fees for funerals that should have been remitted to the Winchester Diocesan Board of Finance.
Between April 2011 and August 2013 Andrew Hawthorne received up to £63,012 for funerals at which he officiated.
Following the conviction, Dale Sheehan, for the CPS, said: "Andrew Hawthorne knew perfectly well that he was acting in a criminally dishonest way by retaining the fees he received for officiating funerals and not declaring them to the Diocese of Winchester, as was required of him.
The jury at Winchester Crown Court heard how he increased the number of funerals he took on, in particular at Bournemouth Crematorium. The jury heard that he was able to officiate at funeral services without the Diocesan Board of Finance knowing that they were taking place, thereby enabling him to retain the fees without the knowledge of the Diocese. The fact that he was doing so only came to light as a result of the investigation into grievances raised by Mr Hawthorne himself.
Dale Sheehan said: "He claimed in his police interview that he believed he was entitled to keep this money. This was of course untrue as during his time as an ordained priest he would remit the fees.
"His behaviour was not only dishonest but detrimental to the finances of the Winchester Diocese, which as a result suffered a considerable loss.”
Witnesses in the case explained to the court how they told him that fees for funerals should be paid to Winchester Diocesan Board Finance.
The jury also heard that Mr Hawthorne continued to receive a housing allowance from the Diocesan Board of Finance, when by virtue of his having been received into the Roman Catholic Church, he was no longer entitled to do so. In total he received £3097.10 which he used to pay personal debts.
Dale Sheehan said: "Andrew Hawthorne acted with complete disregard to the Church he was serving and fraudulently acquired money to meet his personal needs. Today after hearing both the prosecution and defence case, the jury at Winchester Crown Court found him guilty."
Notes to editors
- Dale Sheehan is Senior District Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wessex
- Andrew Hawthorne was found guilty of two offences of fraud: Count 1 - abuse of position, between December 2009 and August 2013 and Count 2 - false representation between August 2013 and January 2014
- He was an ordained priest from 1993- 2000 and was engaged part time with the Church of England after he retired medically.
- Andrew Hawthorne’s date of birth is 22/09/1968. He is from Bournemouth.