A corrupt church accountant has been dubbed 'despicable' by a judge who sentenced him to five years for stealing over £500,000, much of it intended for hungry orphans in the Philippines.
57-year-old Stephen Methuen, cynically abused his position of trust as a treasurer at Amblecote Christian Centre in Stourbridge and the Christian International Relief Mission to snaffle £517,000 over a six-year period.
His dishonest ways were only unearthed when pastor Adrian Lowe, his personal friend, spotted irregularities while carrying out a financial assessment and called the police.
In a joint investigation by HMRC and West Midlands Police, they discovered that the cash had been transferred to Methuen's own bank account.
When interviewed, Methuen told HMRC investigators he was innocent and the discrepancies were due to errors with computer software. However, digital forensic analysis of computers proved this to be a lie. He had transferred around £517,000 to his own account and paid off his personal credit cards.
Graham Ranson, assistant director criminal taxes unit, HMRC, said: 'Methuen was ruthless in his campaign to steal these substantial funds. He gained the trust of the organisations over a number of years and held a respected position. This did not satisfy him or provide any sense of loyalty.
'The Gift Aid scheme is designed to benefit charities, but Methuen continued to falsify business records for his own financial benefit. The prison sentence handed out by the courts today sends out a clear message that crime does not pay and the community will be horrified to learn he exploited and stole from these charities and the taxpayer, in a sustained and methodical way, over a number of years.'
He was sentenced to five years in jail at Wolverhampton Crown Court having pleaded guilty to 12 charges of false accounting at a hearing earlier this year and four offences of cheating HMRC.
Methuen, now separated from his wife Lynda, is expected to return to court for a Proceeds of Crime Hearing which could seize any remaining assets.