An evil vicar who fleeced a dementia sufferer out of his £61,000 life-savings which he used to splash out on his daughter’s dream wedding and go on gambling sprees has been jailed.
Reverend Peter Hesketh, 65, carried out a “a planned and careful series of many thefts” to get his hands on the cash after conning widower Peter Court into giving him power of attorney.
Between January 2006 and May 2007 he stole a total of £61,429 from Mr Court’s bank account, telling the vulnerable victim he was investing it in business deals.
But Hesketh actually siphoned off the cash to pay the mortgage on his own £255,000 house in Kidderminster, Worcs., and gamble on horse racing.
Shockingly, he even used £20,000 of the 75-year-old’s life-savings to pay for a venue for his daughter’s wedding.
His crimes came to light after Mr Court, a former landlord of the Woodman pub at Ribbesford, Bewdley, Worcs., died in May 2007 and his family discovered his accounts had been plundered.
Hesketh, who even officiated Mr Court’s funeral, was jailed for three-and-a-half years after he was found guilty of theft following an eight-day trial at Worcester Crown Court.
Sentencing Hesketh, Judge Toby Hooper QC told him he had carried out a “planned and careful series of many thefts” from a person who held him in “high regard.”
He added: “It is tragic to note you evidently held your victim in contempt, as is evidenced by your claim that you were ministering to him in religion during the offending and by derogatory remarks that you made about him.
“But for your victim’s untimely death, your offending would have continued indefinitely, or at least until you had stolen all that his accounts contained.”
The court heard Hesketh had befriended Mr Court while carrying out his ministry at a nursing home where the retired pub landlord was being cared for.
Hesketh persuaded the terminally ill pensioner to grant him power of attorney over his finances, promising Mr Court he would use the money to invest in safe business ventures.
When he was arrested in June 2008 Hesketh told officers Mr Court had agreed to pay him £20,000-a-year in exchange for helping him with his affairs because they were, he told police, “a pig’s bloody breakfast”.
Jailing him, Judge Hooper dismissed Hesketh’s claim that he was entitled to annual payments as “preposterous”.
Prosecutor Paul Mytton told the court that the father-of-five, who was ordained a deacon in the catholic church in 1992, had been “in control of the purse strings” and thought no-one would notice the swindle.
He said: “It is suggested that the defendant squandered some of the cash on gambling.
“Betting documents from four bookmakers were found at his home by police.”
Peter Arnold, defending, said Hesketh would find jail difficult because of health problems which included epilepsy and gout.
After the case, Detective Constable Phillipa Charlesworth, of West Mercia Police, 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 the outcome at last gives them some closure.”
The disgraced minister’s daughter Andrea, 39, married Carl Berisford-Murray, 37, at St Ambrose’s Church, Kidderminster, Worcs., on Saturday December 8, 2007.
The couple are understood to have had a lavish reception at a nearby hotel attended by more than 100 guests.
Rev Hesketh’s son-in-law Mr Berisford-Murray, a web designer who lives in Leamington Spa, Warks., said: “We did not know the wedding was being paid for in this way [from Mr Court’s bank account].
“Yes the wedding cost money and we celebrated it at a hotel.
“I do not want to say too much but as I understand it, the family are sticking by Peter.”