A FORMER church treasurer has been forced to pay back almost £100,000 of cash he embezzled from the local diocese.

Roger Ladbury, who once worked for Chalke Valley Churches, stole £96,000 from two accounts between 2008 and 2017.

Now, under a conditional caution following a two-year fraud investigation by Wiltshire Police, Ladbury must repay all the cash, write a letter of admission and apology, and listen to victim impact statements.

He has also been offered the opportunity for Christian confession and receive absolution.

Revd Catherine Blundell, Rector of the Chalke Valley Churches, said that while a conditional caution is unusual in a situation like this, under "legal guidance" and after "much prayer", it had been accepted.

She added that the post of treasurer was a volunteer role and Ladbury’s stewardship of these two accounts had been taken "on trust".

“A conditional caution allows Roger to face the consequences of his actions, but avoids a lengthy court case or a possible prison sentence for an elderly man," she said.

"This, we feel, allows us to demonstrate clear Christian values in the resolution of this matter."

She added that didn’t mean that everyone wasn’t "deeply hurt" by Ladbury’s actions.

She said: “Roger was a neighbour and a friend of many of the people he stole from and that leads to a strong sense of betrayal and it will take the communities time to heal.

“But now that the money has been repaid and Roger has confessed and apologised, we hope that as Churches we can move on from this.

“We do not want this one act to define us because as Churches we reach out into the communities we serve with generosity and love”

The news was revealed last night at a private meeting held for churchgoers in the area.

Revd Blundell told members of the churches that back in 2017 officers had discovered that there had been "misappropriation of church funds" from two bank accounts, which consists of 12 communities spread along the Chalke Valley.

She explained that the police had been informed immediately and that had led to a two year-long investigation into the fraud.

She apologised that the matter had not been made public before because police involvement meant that the matter had to remain confidential until the investigation was complete.