Kidderminster vicar The Revd Peter Hesketh on trial at Worcester Crown Court

Worcester News: Vicar stole £61,000 life-savings from parishioner, court told Vicar stole £61,000 life-savings from parishioner, court told

A Worcestershire vicar abused his position of trust to steal £61,000 from the life savings of a vulnerable man after gaining control of his finances, a court has been told.

The Revd Peter Hesketh made "raids" on the life savings of Peter Court and used the money for his own benefit, Paul Mytton, prosecuting, told Worcester Crown Court.

He said some of the explanations offered by the 65-year-old, who had acted as a "carer, friend and parish priest" to Mr Court were untrue. The money taken from the accounts was unlikely to have been used for the benefit of Mr Court, who spent his last few months in a nursing home and died in May, 2007, after suffering from dementia.

One of the payments involved a deposit for a wedding venue which appeared to be for Hesketh's daughter, Mr Mytton said. In another example, he said some of the money was used to pay the mortgage on a property Hesketh was converting into flats and work to refurbish it.

Hesketh of The Presbytery, Shrewsbury Road, Kidderminster, denies a charge of theft. He said he had entered into a verbal agreement with Mr Court for a salary of £20,000 a year to be paid to his consultancy firm, P & M Associates, and he was taking the money he was owed for that. He had a number of areas of expertise including engineering, accountancy and overseas development and one of the projects he had been involved in with Mr Court was to redevelop a caravan park with log cabins. But, Mr Mytton said, on one occasion, he had taken £2,500 to pay for advice on using timber from Nigeria for this but the consultant had actually decided it was not viable and had not asked for a fee.

In the 16 months to the point when Hesketh was awarded enduring power of attorney, £1,800 was used to pay for Mr Court's expenses, Mr Mytton said, but in the following ten months before Mr Court went into the nursing home, £9,800 was used. Hesketh could provide receipts for shopping for £3,000 of this.

Hesketh then paid the nursing home fees by cheque from Mr Court's accounts but thousands were used for other purposes, Mr Mytton said.

When Hesketh was interviewed by police in 2009 after the allegations were made, he said "how dare you say that after all I've done for him." He told police he did not see a conflict of interest between looking after Mr Court and being in a business relationship with him.

"He abused the position he had obtained over a vulnerable man who was not able to control his own finances," Mr Mytton said. "He had become ill with dementia. Hesketh saw that and thought he could get away with something nobody would notice."

Mr Court's closest living relative was his brother Eric, who lived in France for many years, Mr Mytton said.

"It was the open goalmouth confronting him when he had become the person in control of the purse strings," he said. "He embarked on a process of removing considerable amounts of money for his own benefits."

He said Hesketh had "made raids on this poor man's life savings" and many of his explanations did not stack up or are untrue. The figure of £61,429 taken between January 17, 2006 and May 26, 2007, had been arrived at by financial investigators, he said.

The trial continues.

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