A Catholic priest has been jailed for 10 months for stealing £96,000 from his parish in North Ayrshire to fund an online gambling habit.
Fr Graeme Bell, 41, embezzled the cash from St Mary’s (Our Lady, Star of the Sea) in Saltcoats between March and May 2015 to play online roulette.
He left the parish in June last year after financial irregularities were reported to police.
Bell, of Kilwinning, was jailed after he admitted a charge of embezzlement.
‘Breach of trust’
Sentencing him at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, Sheriff Alistair Watson told the priest: “This is a very significant breach of trust and a substantial amount of funds.
“All the difficulties you have did not remove your free will – as an intelligent being you deliberately undertook the actions you undertook.
“The money of the church would’ve been allocated to charity and good causes.”
Sheriff Watson said that he accepted Bell’s “very genuine expressions of shame, remorse and genuine attempt to put matters right”.
But he added: “I can take an exceptionally low starting point for the sentence but I feel I would be failing in my duty if I did not impose custody.”
The sheriff also urged Father Bell, who the court heard regularly attends Gambler’s Anonymous, to continue to seek help for his gambling when he is released from custody.