Shropshire Star

Former Church official accused of ‘clocking up more flights than Alan Whicker’

Martin Sargeant appeared in court charged with defrauding a charity of more than £5 million.

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Martin Sargeant

A former Church official was accused of clocking up more flights than globetrotting broadcaster Alan Whicker as he appeared in court charged with defrauding a charity of more than £5 million.

Martin Sargeant, 52, worked as operations manager for the Church of England’s Diocese of London from 2008 until his retirement in August 2019 and was clerk of the City church grants committee.

He is accused of defrauding the charitable trust – set up by an Act of Parliament in 1891 to support and fund the restoration of churches and chaired by the Archdeacon of London – of around £5.2 million over the course of a decade.

Sargeant is also charged with money laundering after allegedly spending the money on gambling and flying more than 180 times with British Airways – prompting a comparison to the late Whicker’s World presenter, who reported from all over the globe.

Malachy Packenham described the alleged travel as “quite an achievement” and told Westminster Magistrates’ Court: “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 appeared in the dock on Friday dressed in black jeans and a short-sleeved checked shirt. He spoke to confirm his name, date of birth and address in Dudley, West Midlands, and gave no indication of plea when charges of fraud by abuse of position and money laundering were put to him.

The fraud charge alleges Sargeant abused his position as operations manager to make a gain of approximately £5.2 million between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2019.

He is accused of fraudulently requesting grants for funding for dysfunctional churches to steal the money by transferring funds through church bank accounts he controlled as part of his job.

The money was then allegedly funnelled into accounts he controlled and that were in his name, before Sargeant spent it on “personal entertainment or frivolous things like gambling,” said Mr Packenham.

Magistrates decided the charges were too serious to be dealt with in the magistrates’ court and sent the case to Southwark Crown Court, where Sargeant will appear on September 2.

He was granted bail on conditions he does not leave the UK, resides at his address, and does not contact any employee of the Diocese of London.

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