Beds, Herts & Bucks

Luton church centre treasurer jailed for £80,000 theft

A 63-year-old Bedfordshire church centre treasurer has been jailed for 16 months for stealing nearly £80,000 to fund a gambling addiction.

James Varnals looked after bar income at St Joseph's centre in Luton and admitted taking the money between July 2008 and March 2011.

Judge Richard Foster at Luton Crown Court said he had sentenced the former Vauxhall manager with "a heavy heart".

Varnals, of St Margaret's Avenue, Luton, pleaded guilty to the theft.

Sandra Beck, prosecuting, said confiscation proceedings would be held to recover any assets.

"As treasurer he had sole responsibility for the income from the centre's bar."

He repeatedly entered less money on accounts sheets than had been recorded by the bar manager and kept the balance, the court heard.

"Inquiries came about because there were financial difficulties at the centre.

"A committee member who was an accountant looked at the books and saw the discrepancies," said Miss Beck.

'Amateurish' crime

"He said he had a severe gambling addiction and did not realise how much money he had taken," she added.

Stuart Sprawson, defending said: "It was rather amateurish and it was only a matter of time before he would eventually be caught.

"He had led a blameless life and had lived and breathed Vauxhall where he had risen to become a middle manager until it had closed.

"He became ill with the addiction which had started from playing Bingo. He seems to be over it now."

Judge Foster told Varnals: "You should have fought your addiction. An immediate custodial sentence is the only option given my public duty but I do so with a heavy heart."

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