“A cheating church warden who stole more than £30,000 from his Coventry church’s funds used some of the money to lease a car for himself and to buy football club season tickets.
And a judge has warned dishonest Ian O’Hara that, even though he is said to have paid back more than two-thirds of the money, ‘it may well be’ he is facing an immediate prison sentence.
O’Hara (54) of Main Road, Ansty, has pleaded guilty to three charges of fraud in abuse of a position of trust as church warden at St Thomas’s Church in Longford, Coventry.
Warwick Crown Court has heard the offences were committed between January 2007 and January 2011 – at a time when O’Hara was expected to safeguard, or not act against, the financial interests of the church.
The charges detail that he used £10,000 worth of funds from what was known as the church’s Hawksbury Account, £16,000 from an HSBC account and £4,794 from a Coventry Building Society account, for his own benefit.
O’Hara had been due to be sentenced, and had turned up at the court with a large holdall, but prosecutor Graeme Simpson told the judge: “We have hit a snag.”
He explained that O’Hara’s barrister Ian Speed had previously indicated to the court ‘that the defendant had paid back a significant amount of money.’
Mr Simpson said that prior to the case being called on, he had been told that a total of £21,063.65 had been repaid by O’Hara, but he had not been able to verify that – and he asked for an adjournment for further enquiries to be made.
Of the repayment, Recorder Dean Kershaw commented: “That is the strongest mitigation, in my opinion, although whether it saves him in the end, I don’t know.”
He observed: “Enquiries have revealed that some of the money was spent on a lease car, a cleaner for his house and tickets for a football club.”
And Mr Simpson confirmed: “Yes, two season tickets, one for himself, and one for his sister.”
The court heard that once his dishonesty was discovered, an agreement was initially reached with St Thomas’s that the money would be paid back.
It was only when further discrepancies came to light that it was decided to involve the police, and at that point the church suspended accepting any further payments.
Mr Speed pointed out: “Initially they thought £67,000 was missing, and that’s why the police became involved, but there was an amended indictment setting out £31,000 because the original figure was unsubstantiated.”
Adjourning the case, and granting him bail, Recorder Kershaw told O’Hara: “It is important I know exactly how much money you have paid back.
“I would always hope that by the time I come to sentence you, all the money will have been paid back. It is an important aspect of your mitigation.
“But I don’t want you leaving court thinking this will not be a prison sentence. This was a very bad breach of trust.
“The first sentence in my mind at the moment is an immediate custodial sentence, but I haven’t made my mind up.””