Former Archbishop’s aide faces questions about £ 300,000 “missing”
An aide to the former Archbishop of Canterbury faces questions from the Charity Watchdog about allegations that “disappeared” from the sale of a £ 300,000 church property. The Charity Commission evaluates allegations that two leading bishops “seduced” elderly parishioners into signing their trustee status for “exactly nothing”. It is alleged that the proceeds from the sale of properties intended for the benefit of local communities allegedly “disappeared without an audit trail”. The commission examines complaints from trustees about possible irregularities in charity accounts held by Bishop Primus and Bishop of the Northern Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. John Fenwick – a former adviser to Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury – and the Bishop of the Southern Diocese, Rt Rev. Paul Hunt. West Midlands Police said they are investigating a fraud allegation to see if any crime may have been committed. Bishop Fenwick heads the Free Church of England, a splinter group of the Church of England founded in the mid-19th century. He is assisted in his role by Bishop Hunt. It is believed that Bishop Fenwick assured parishioners that £ 300,000 from the sale of St. Stephen’s Church in Middlesbrough was held in the FCE Central Trust. However, the complainants say that the company’s records do not include a record of the money deposited. The commission has received allegations that the transfer of property from parishioners to the trust took place in order to persuade “frail, elderly” trustees to “be relieved of the burdens of the trusteeship and the future of property secured”. The watchdog also evaluates claims that the trust registered the land and buildings of local churches on its behalf without ever paying for them or showing their value in the accounts. “Maybe [this is] because Bishop Fenwick persuaded confused, elderly, and tired local ward trustees not to hand over their property to the Central Trust for exactly nothing, ”one complainant alleged. The commission is also examining allegations that in 2017 around £ 30,000 “disappeared without an audit trail” from the bank account of the Emmanuel Free Church in England, Morecambe. The FCE Central Trust responded on behalf of both bishops, saying it “strongly rejects the allegations”. “If they are indeed the subject of investigations by the Charity Commission and the police (although no one has contacted the Trust), it would be inappropriate to comment further,” it said. Bishop Fenwick said St. Stephen’s Church was sold after consulting the ward because it was found to be in a dangerous condition. He said a portion of the proceeds from the sale were used to hire a minister – for £ 24,000 a year plus housing and expenses – in hopes of revitalizing the community in April 2018. After two years there was no appreciable growth in parish size, ”and the minister was dismissed in February 2021.