Jail for landlady who stole from church

A respected member of a Norfolk village who stole £13,000 from the parish church was jailed after admitting fraud. Ann Moss left just £1.37 in Mundford Parish Church coffers after a seven-year spell in which she wrote cheques to herself in a desperate attempt to fend off bankruptcy.

A respected member of a Norfolk village who stole £13,000 from the parish church was jailed after admitting fraud.

Ann Moss left just £1.37 in Mundford Parish Church coffers after a seven-year spell in which she wrote cheques to herself in a desperate attempt to fend off bankruptcy. In total she took £18,000 from church funds but later repaid £5,000 after the sale of her house.

Moss, 55, landlady of the White Hart pub at Foulden, near Brandon, now faces eight months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to eight charges of false accounting and one of theft.

At Norwich Crown Court, Peter Barr, in mitigation, said: “This happened in a very small village and it is fair to say her actions have caused a scandal. She is ashamed to walk in public and ashamed to go back to the church.”

Prosecutor Chris Yule said Moss had served as the parochial parish church treasurer since 1993. She began stealing the money in 1998 and had originally taken small amounts of about £20 to £30 but as the crimes went undetected these figures escalated.

Her crimes came to light in 2005 when she left the role of treasurer and her replacement discovered the dire state of the church's finance.

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Mr Barr said: “This was a very unsophisticated crime. At any time somebody could have checked the account balance and found her out. Her only attempt to cover up what she was doing was to put the real amount on the balance sheet.”

He said Moss, a mother of two, had used the money to pay for food, rent and bills as she faced huge debts. Despite the fact the business she ran with her husband Charlie was struggling she never attempted to use church funds to prop it up.

Since the crimes were detected she has been declared bankruptcy and the couple are expected to lose their tenancy of the pub in coming days. “She has shown real remorse and sorrow and has been left a broken woman,” Mr Barr said.

He pleaded with the court for leniency saying Moss's previous good character should ensure that any custodial sentence given could be suspended. Mr Barr said her husband had recently received £13,000 which could be used to compensate the church or its insurance company.

But recorder Guy Ayers said he had no option but to jail her. Mr Ayers said: “This took place over six to seven years and you made attempts to cover up your actions, albeit very unsophisticated attempts.

“You seem to have very poor financial sense. When your crimes were detected you tried to write out a cheque to repay the money but that cheque was for an account which had already been closed.

“There is a lot of good to be said about you and you have done a lot of good for the community. You were in a position of trust and you abused that - that is something this court takes very seriously.

“This level of deception has to be matched with a custodial sentence. I sentence you on the understanding you husband will repay the money.”

Moss has been involved in charity work including organising raffles for several years. Under her stewardship the White Hart won the Campaign for Real Ale's West Norfolk Pub of the Year in 2003.

A resident in Foulden said: “The case has been the talk of the village. The pub is the only community facility in the village and she is quite well known. Ann is a pleasant woman and it is quite a surprise.”

Speaking after the case Jan McFarlane, spokeswoman for the Norwich diocese, said: “We place a high degree of trust in our PCC treasurers and we are very sorry when there is a breakdown in that trust.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the church community in Mundford as they seek to move forward and also with Ann Moss and her family as they contemplate the future.”