Pensioner Janet Farquhar transferred the church funds into her own bank account over an eight-year period while she was in charge of finances at Chalmers Memorial Church, in Port Seton, East Lothian.
The pensioner took a total of £72,155 – including more than £12,000 of collection plate donations – and attempted to cover up her scam by forging bank statements during a subsequent investigation into the missing cash.
Farquhar, 70, admitted embezzling the cash at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last month and returned to the dock for sentencing yesterday. Solicitor Colm Dempsey, defending, said his disabled client had repaid £15,000 to the Church of Scotland and plans to sell off her home to pay the balance off.
The court was told Farquhar began taking the church cash while she was still in employment in 2008 and she had spent the bulk of the money on home improvements.
The brief added Farquhar was “deeply ashamed and remorseful” over her crime and a jail term would a “have a more profound effect on her than an able-bodied person”.
But Sheriff Peter Braid told Farquhar, of Cockenzie, East Lothian, that the offence was “a gross breach of trust” and in his opinion there was “no alternative to a custodial sentence.”
Sheriff Braid added: “This was a gross breach of trust, not only the trust placed in you by the Church of Scotland but also by your fellow congregation members.
“The sum you embezzled, let’s not forget, was more than £72,000 including more than £12,000 you failed to bank in church collections. There are mitigating factors including your age and state of health and I also accept there is a prospect of repayment and you are not likely to reoffend.
“However in my opinion there is no alternative to a custodial sentence.”
A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “Such crimes are highly unusual but they do cause hurt and mistrust in the local setting. We have been providing support for the congregation at this difficult time.”
During yesterday’s hearing the Crown moved for a Confiscation Order and a hearing into that will be heard at the capital court in June.
Last month the court heard Farquhar was appointed treasurer of the church in March 1999 and began pilfering thousands of pounds of church funds in 2008.
She paid cheques totalling £59,752 into her own Royal Bank of Scotland account and took the remaining £12,403 from church collections made by parishioners.
Fiscal depute Rachel Aedy told the court the Church of Scotland finance committee assessed the church’s income and ministry payments in 2015 but found Chalmers Memorial Church were behind in their contributions. She said Farquhar eventually told Church of Scotland officials that the church’s bank was looking into the anomaly and sent forged bank statements.