70-year-old woman jailed after embezzling over £70k from local church

Janet Farquhar has been jailed for 18 months. Picture; Alexander Lawrie
Janet Farquhar has been jailed for 18 months. Picture; Alexander Lawrie
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A 70-year old woman, who embezzled over £70,000 from her local church, while acting as treasurer, has been jailed for 18 months.

Janet Farquhar of East Lorimer Place, Cockenzie, had pled guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court previously to embezzling £72,155.34 from Chalmers Memorial Church in Port Seton between January 16, 2008, and July 11, 2016.

Sentence was deferred until today (April 30) for reports.

In June, 2016, the Executive Treasurer of the Church of Scotland’s Finance Committee reported that a number of congregations who were behind in their contributions and Chalmers Memorial was highlighted as having significant dues. He sent a number of letters to Farquhar, but received no replies until August that year when Farquhar contacted the Church saying she would: “look into the issues of where payments had gone”.

The Church contacted an elder of Chalmers Memorial Church, who worked in the Bank of Scotland, asking if she could find out where the money had been going, if not to the Church.

The elder discovered that some of the payments, supposed to have been made, were statement from 2013 and the year had been altered. She also found that two cheques for £345 and £385 had been cashed by the accused at the Prestonpans branch of the bank, and in September 2016, Farquhar was removed from her position as the church’s treasurer.

Further investigations showed that between 2008 and 2016, Farquhar had taken £59,752.34 by cashing cheques and a further £12,403 from the church’s Collection money.

Defence solicitor, Colm Dempsey, told Sheriff Peter Braid that Farquhar had repaid £15,000 to the Church leaving a balance of £57,155.34p.

She had, he said, expressed her willingness to repay the Chuch in full and had offered to give them standard security on her property.

Houses in her street had sold for around £200,000. Her son had recently moved to Elgin and she intended to move there. Mr Dempsey added that although some work might be required on the house there would be sufficient to repay in full and The Church were happy with that.

The solicitor admitted it had been a gross breach of trust over a long period of time, but it had not been to fund an extravagant life-style.

She had to use two sticks to walk, had a metal plate in her shoulder and received care twice a week from a nurse. She suffered from shame and embarrassment, being well-known in her local small community and felt ostracized. Once the money was paid back, he said, she hoped “to make peace with the congregation”.

He asked Sheriff Braid to allow his client to sell her home, repay The Church and then make an assessment on sentence.

Sheriff Braid pointed out that Farquhar had been embezzling money while she was still in employment and earning and had taken £12,000 from collections in her church, money which could have come from people of limited means. She had also forged bank statements. There was no alternative to a custodial sentence, he said, but taking into account some mitigating factors, he would reduce the sentence from two years to 18 months.