A BOOK-KEEPER stole over £32,000 from a church before blowing it all on adult websites and internet dating, a court heard.
Ian Muschamp, 67, withdrew money from the bank account of St Helen’s Road Methodist Church every month for two-and-a-half years by forging cheques.
He then lost the money when he became the victim of a scam involving a man posing as a woman called “Jessica”.
At Bolton Crown Court, James Preece, prosecuting, said Muschamp was treasurer of the Henniker Road church when the offences took place from March 2017 to October 2019.
His actions were noticed by an auditor who sent an email alerting the church’s minister, who confronted Muschamp, who immediately confessed.
He told police he had used the money “to speak to women on adult websites” and estimated the amount to be as high as £42,000. A more accurate total was given as £32,988.37.
Mr Preece said other churchgoers were asked to co-sign blank cheques each month after being told they were for “legitimate expenses”.
One female churchgoer also had her signature forged and she described how this had made her “feel upset” as “Ian was a friend and someone I thought I could trust.”
The church’s minister said the theft had caused “a lot of problems” as plans for future buildings had to be put on hold.
Kevin Liston, defending, said Muschamp, of Hulton Lane, Bolton, had made an “ill-judged decision” due to suffering from “social isolation and loneliness”.
“He was himself duped by a man calling himself Jessica and was exposed to vulnerability and fraud,” said Mr Liston.
“My client is a lonely man of modest financial means who has been caught up in an unsavoury matter,” he said before adding that Muschamp was also suffering from bladder cancer.
Sentencing Muschamp, Recorder Paul Taylor said: “There is a saying ‘there is no fool like an old fool’ and you are living proof of that. You were tricked by ‘Jessica’, who was in fact a man and who is now under investigation for telling sob stories.
Muschamp received a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a six-month curfew.