Ex-priest Andrew Hawthorne sentenced for fraud

Andrew Hawthorne
Image caption Andrew Hawthorne was found guilty of two counts of fraud

A former priest defrauded the Church of England of more than £50,000 and held funerals with no religious authority, a court has heard.

Andrew Hawthorne, 51, of Southbourne, Dorset, was found guilty of two counts of fraud after an earlier trial.

He dishonestly kept funeral fees and a church housing allowance, Winchester Crown Court heard.

Judge Richard Parkes QC imposed a two-year jail sentence, suspended for two years.

The court heard Hawthorne had collected £49,000 in funeral fees between 2009 and 2013, which should have been paid to the Diocese of Winchester and Christchurch parish.

He continued to hold funerals at Bournemouth Crematorium even after he had been suspended by the church.

"Bereaved families had their services for their loved ones held by a man... who had no authority to act as a priest," the judge said.

Hawthorne was subsequently received into the Roman Catholic Church but continued to accept more than £3,000 from a Church of England housing allowance.

'Serious breach of trust'

Judge Parkes said the defendant had taken money which should have been spent on "good, charitable causes".

He added Hawthorne was being spared jail because of prosecution delays.

The judge said the defendant was told in 2012 by Dorset Police he would not be prosecuted, only to be charged later by Hampshire Constabulary.

Judge Parkes also ordered father-of-two Hawthorne to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

From the public gallery, Hawthorne's daughter Emilia, 20, shouted: "Love you, dad. You know you're innocent," and was ordered by the judge to be silent.

Outside court, Hawthorne, of Arnewood Road, said he maintained his innocence and was relieved his seven-year ordeal was over.

Andrew Robinson, chief executive of the Winchester Diocesan Board of Finance, said Hawthorne's conduct "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".

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