The Daily Telegraph

Vicar lied about funerals to steal £100,000

Chaplain took advantage of diocese’s trust to pocket funds and spend them on alcohol and books

- By Lydia Willgress

A VICAR with a drink problem lied about funerals to steal £100,000 from church funds before spending it on alcohol and books, a court has heard.

Michael Fry, 57, hid the number of funerals he conducted between 2006 and 2013 from his bosses at the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool.

The chaplain at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and team vicar in the St Luke’s parish of the city from 1991 was allowed to retain a portion of fees passed on from funeral directors to offset against his annual £22,500 stipend.

The diocese believed he conducted about 20 funerals a year when in fact he was officiatin­g about 100.

He failed to submit any annual returns during the offending period until he resigned in January 2014 after the Church discovered the discrepanc­y, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

Previously, concerns had been raised within the diocese about his excessive drinking and “rumours of inappropri­ate behaviour”.

Simon Duncan, prosecutin­g, said Fry told detectives he spent the fees on “drink, travel, books for the garden and even a payment to the organist”.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft totalling £107,673.

Fry was sentenced to 20 months in jail, suspended for two years. Martine Snowdon, defending, said: “He fully accepts that he has failed his peers and the wider society in failing to account as scrupulous­ly as he could have done and allowed himself to be enriched.”

Fry turned to alcohol after suffering depression when his parents died and his “emotional resources were stretched too far” in the environmen­t he worked in, she said. After being sectioned in 2014, he is volunteeri­ng at a homeless centre in Liverpool.

Sentencing, Judge Elizabeth Nicholls told Fry: “I have no doubt the good you have done in the community, and continue to do, outweighs the harm you have done.”

Outside court, the Archdeacon of Liverpool, Venerable Ricky Panter, said he believed that “justice has been done”. He said: “Clergy are rightly expected to demonstrat­e a high level of honesty and trustworth­iness, both as a duty to the Bishop and as a responsibi­lity to their parishione­rs.

“To break that trust has inevitable and far-reaching consequenc­es.”

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