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On-the-run vicar jailed for church fees thefts

Simon Reynolds, 50, took more than £16,500 handed over to All Saints Church in Darton, Barnsley, for weddings, funerals and churchyard memorials.

Reynolds left Sheffield Crown Court on Thursday lunchtime after the jury went out to consider its verdicts on four counts of theft against him.

He never returned and a Europe-wide search began, with police involving Interpol and senior clergy appealing for the vicar to come back.

Alasdair Cambell, defending, told the judge that his client first went to his Sheffield hotel before travelling to Manchester Airport.

The barrister said Reynolds then meant to go Dublin but, in a state of stress, booked a flight to Dusseldorf instead, where he stayed with a friend.

Mr Campbell said this friend drove him back to his home in Farnham in Surrey, and the defendant then made his way to meet police in Sheffield.

He told the court: "He told me that he was not, in fact, fleeing from the process but he was fleeing from what, personally, he was feeling."

Last week, the jury heard that Reynolds had pocketed cash given to him as fees for weddings and funerals as well as others relating to memorials in the churchyards.

He should have paid this money to the diocese or the parochial church council.

Prosecutors said the appaling state of Reynolds' book-keeping meant it was difficult to say how much he took but estimated it was more than £24,000.

Mr Campbell argued that the figure in question was much lower than this and Judge Goose decided, having listened to all the evidence, that he would sentence on the basis that Reynolds took at least £16,500.

Reynolds, of Upper Church Lane, Farnham, stood in the dock wearing a blue and white checked shirt and blue trousers to listen to the judge's sentencing remarks, flanked by a single security guard.

Judge Goose said he had listened to a lot of evidence about Reynolds' terrible administration skills and decided this was not relevant.

He said: "I'm not impressed with that explanation. It seems to me that training and deficiencies in administration had very little to do with the dishonesty you have undertaken."

The judge said he had identified 32 individual marriages for which Reynolds appears to have pocketed the fees.

He said: "You were quite obviously in a position of a high degree of trust, not just by the church and the Diocesan Board of Finance but also by the parishioners, the wardens and the the treasurer who worked closely with you."

The judge told him: "Your community, who allowed you into their home and their lives, have had their trust broken by what you did."

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

The court heard that, prior to being priest-in-charge at Darton, Reynolds was a curate in Exeter and, before that, a minor canon at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

He left Darton in 2013 to be a priest-in-charge in Farnham.

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

"Simon has to face up to what he has done and the problems he has caused, not just in the parish where these offences took place, but particularily in his present parish here and all the huge amount of hurt and anxiety he has caused to so many people," said the Bishop of Dorking, Rt Revd Ian Brackley to Premier, who oversees the parish of Farnham in Surrey where Simon Reynolds was serving when he was arrested.

Two widows who handed over cash to vicar Simon Reynolds in relation to headstones after their husbands died have said he deserved a longer sentence.

Iris Fleetwood, whose husband Jeff died in 2010, said: "To me personally, he nearly destroyed me, that man.

"I did warn the church at the time, I told him personally and his boss that he was no man of God and he was a disgrace to Darton church."

Mrs Fleetwood said: "He took me to the very edge, Simon, and from that day I've waited for this day and, at last, it's come. I knew one day he would be found out for exactly what he is. He was never, ever a man of God."

Gail Zoldan, whose husband Martin died in 2011, said: "I'm glad that justice has been done but I do think he should have got longer than what he has - him being in the position that he was, being a priest.

"If it had been somebody else, I wouldn't have been as bothered. But I think being a priest, and having all your trust in him, the sentence just isn't long enough."

Mrs Zoldan said: "When you've lost somebody so close to you, that's been a big part of your life since you were fourteen years of age, and then you try to make a nice grave for him and he doesn't even keep the cemetery properly done - you've to fight weeds and everything to get to a grave. And then for him to steal money that was there for that reason, it just causes you a lot of grief, so much upset."

Both women, who live in Darton, watched from the public gallery at Sheffield Crown Court as Reynolds was jailed.

Listen to the Bishop of Dorking, Rt Revd Ian Brackley speaking to Premier's Des Busteed after sentencing:

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