THE FAMILY of a dementia patient whose life savings were stolen by a disgraced clergyman have welcomed his prison sentence.

As we reported yesterday, the Rev Peter Hesketh was jailed for three-and-a-half years on Wednesday for stealing £61,429 from the late Peter Court between January 2006 and May 2007, while acting as his power of attorney.

Hesketh, a chaplain at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, had denied the offence but was found guilty following an eight-day trial at Worcester Crown Court.

Following his sentence, Detective Constable Phillipa Charlesworth, who carried out the inquiry, said: “Hesketh was evasive and inconsistent during our dealings with him and it was clear he was not telling the truth.

“As power of attorney he should have been acting in Peter Court’s best interests – instead he acted in his own. He has now paid a high price for that betrayal of trust by losing his liberty.

“It has been a long and complex investigation and the seriousness of the offence has been reflected by the severity of the sentence.

“Mr Court’s family is pleased with the result and we hope that today’s outcome at last gives them some closure.”

Sentencing him, Judge Toby Hooper QC said that while Hesketh had been held in “high regard” by his victim and people locally, he had betrayed that trust.

The court was told that Mr Court was formerly landlord of the Woodman pub at Ribbesford, Bewdley, where he was befriended by Hesketh aged 65, of Shrewsbury Road, Kidderminster. When Mr Court’s health went into decline with dementia Hesketh was made his power of attorney but started siphoning off his friend’s money into his own accounts for business and personal use.

Following Mr Court’s death in May 2007, his family became suspicious and called the police after Hesketh was unable to satisfactorily explain where the money had gone.

In a statement Monsignor Timothy Menezes, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, said: “I am saddened to learn that the Rev Peter Hesketh, a married deacon of our diocese, has been found guilty of theft and a breach of the trust that was placed in him. The Archdiocese of Birmingham accepts the verdict of the court.”