A Suffolk clergyman has been cleared by a jury of defrauding his own church.
Ian Finn, 58, of Hopton Rise, Haverhill, had pleaded not guilty to a charge of fraud by abuse of position between June 2007 and March 2014.
The prosecution alleged that Finn had failed to properly account for money paid as fees for weddings, funeral and cremation services and the reading of wedding banns over a seven year period.
At the time of the alleged offence, Finn had been working as parish rector at St Mary The Virgin Church, Haverhill.
It was alleged during his trial at Ipswich Crown Court that Finn had failed to account for £12,707.
Today, after two hours of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.
After the jury returned the verdict, Judge David Goodin told Finn that he was free to leave the court.
The court had been told that initial concerns had been raised by the parish treasurer about Finn’s record keeping in January 2014, which led to an investigation by church officials.
Finn was also Rural Dean of Clare and an honorary dean at St Edmundsbury Cathedral,
When questioned by Suffolk police, Finn had claimed that the missing church fees were a matter of incompetence on his part rather that dishonesty.
Finn told detectives that he had made simple accounting mistakes and blamed the situation on “chaotic record keeping and poor and inadequate accounting skills”.
Giving evidence, Finn said that he had been “left to his own devices” to deal with church financial issues after being given no formal training.
Finn told the jury that he had been suspended from his role as parish rector since the fraud allegations were made three years ago.
He denied having ever acted dishonestly and said he would never have taken the chance of seeing his church career destroyed over an alleged fraud involving the equivalent of £1,700 a year over seven-year period.
Since his suspension, he calculated that he was entitled to as much as £11,000 in expenses incurred during that seven years and which he had never claimed from the church authorities.
Following an informal meeting with Archdeacon David Jenkins, Finn said had checked his records and came to the “horrific understanding” that he had made accounting errors.
Finn said he believed that around £18,000 was involved and he had written a cheque to the Diocesan Board of Finance for that sum.
However, when the figure was officially adjusted to £12,707 he had not been reimbursed the balance, Finn told the court.
Among character witnesses called to speak on Finn’s behalf was Vanessa Whitcombe, head of Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill who described him as “a man of incredible integrity.”
The Rev Graham Owen, who was brought in to assist with parish duties following Finn’s suspension said he had “every confidence” in him, both as a priest and as a person.
The Rt. Revd. Dr. Mike Harrison, Bishop of Dunwich, said: “Many people in the Revd. Canon Ian Finn’s parishes of Haverhill and Withersfield, as well as his colleagues and elsewhere, will be left deeply saddened by all that has happened, and my prayers and thoughts are very much with everyone involved.
“Canon Finn has achieved a lot of good during his years of ministry, and is well thought of by many, which is why this has been so especially difficult for everyone concerned.
“Now the trial has concluded, the Diocese will inevitably need to review the matter internally and decide what further action, if any, is required.
“It will continue to support the parishes of Haverhill and Withersfield, and I would ask you to pray for all involved.”
The Revd. Canon Graham Owen, who is offering temporary pastoral support in the Benefice of Haverhill and Withersfield, said on behalf of the churchwardens and congregations at Haverhill and Withersfield: “We are pleased that Canon Finn has been cleared of the criminal charges against him. We shall continue as best we can to do God’s work by supporting the people in our communities.”
West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock added: “I am delighted that Ian Finn has been cleared unanimously of all charges and that the three year ordeal he has so cruelly been subject to has been brought to an end.
“Ian has served the community for many years as a much loved vicar. It has been abundantly clear throughout that this case should never have been brought. I hope that lessons are learned so that the limited resources of the court system are not wasted bringing cases like this in future.
“I hope that Ian can now start to rebuild his life, which has always been lived in the service of others.”