Church Official to be Sentenced for Fraud before Christmas

Church Official to be Sentenced for Fraud before Christmas

The sentencing of former Head of Operations for the Two Cities area of the Diocese of London, Martin Sargeant, is due to take place on 19th December

The hearing to pronounce sentence was to be held on 21st November, but it had to be postponed, as the defence counsel was stuck on a train due to a signal failure and thereby unable to attend court.

At Southwark Crown Court in October, Sargeant pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position. During his years in the diocese, he had diverted around £5.2 million of church money to fund a lifestyle of gambling and flights to the USA once or twice a month. A second charge of money laundering was left to lie on file. 

Sargeant spent the money intended for the Trust for London, a fund set up in 1891 for the restoration of church buildings, on his gambling habit, personal entertainment, and more than 180 British Airways flights.

At an earlier hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, prosecutor Malachy Pakenham hailed such activities as ‘quite an achievement’, claiming, “I should imagine even Alan Whicker in his day wouldn’t have clocked up as many flights as this defendant did over this period.”

Sargeant’s barrister, Mark Ruffell, told the court that Sargeant had been receiving residential treatment in Dudley, West Midlands for a gambling problem. He added that the former church official owned properties in Scotland which he would sell to repay some of the stolen funds.

However, Sargeant’s activities were not confined to the misappropriation of diocesan monies. It appears his departure from the Diocese of London put in motion a chain of events that led to tragedy.

Martin Sergeant took up his role under the previous Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres. In a public address given in 2015, Bishop Chartres acknowledged him as a remarkable layman whose “negotiating skills and attention to detail were crucial in turning ideas into profitable ventures”. During his time in the diocese, Sargeant referred to himself variously as Head of Finance and Property, or Head of Operations, and even as Clerk in Holy Orders. He is not ordained.

It is not clear who appointed Martin Sargeant. Bishop Chartres insists he did not; the Diocese of London says he was not on the payroll. Sargeant was a close associate of former Archdeacon of London, Venerable Peter Delaney, and he entered the diocesan structures in 2008 while Delaney held office.

Martin Sargeant retired in August 2019, after current Bishop of London Dr Sarah Mullally was appointed.

In February 2019, while still in position as Head of Operations for the Two Cities area, Sargeant met senior diocesan colleagues for the purpose of “downloading his corporate memory” before he left. This included a ‘brain dump’ of safeguarding concerns from his years in the diocese. Information shared at this meeting included the uncorroborated allegations about the Revd Alan Griffin’s private life. The cleric had retired from the Church of England in 2011, and had been ordained in the Roman Catholic Church in 2012. These unfounded allegations followed him and were being investigated by both Anglican and Roman authorities. Great distress was caused to Alan Griffin by these ongoing vague investigations and he took his own life in November 2020.

The Learning Lessons Review following the tragedy was published in July 2022. While this independent report did not mention Martin Sargeant by name, he is described as “an influential senior member of staff”. The report is strongly critical of Sargeant’s behaviour as Head of Operations.

“It is abundantly clear that this individual was allowed to function with little accountability or supervision during the tenure of the former bishop. Had such accountability and supervision been in place then many of the issues referred to in later interviews would have been resolved at the time they were allegedly taking place.”

“The [post-]holder was not employed by the diocese, no personnel file appears to have been kept on him and it is difficult to understand where the role sat in terms of hierarchy and more importantly accountability.”