Former Archbishop's aide faces questions over church property sale

(Photo: Unsplash/Andrew Seaman)

The Charity Commission is looking into complaints over the handling of a church property sale and claims that the proceeds have disappeared, The Telegraph reports.

West Midlands Police is also reviewing whether fraud was committed in connection to the sale of St Stephen's, a Free Church of England (FCE) church in Middlesbrough.

The Rt Rev Dr John Fenwick, Bishop Primus of the FCE and a former adviser to retired Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, is reported to have assured congregants that £300,000 made from the sale was being held in the FCE Central Trust. 

The complainants allege that the charity accounts do not contain any record of the money being deposited. 

They also claim that Bishop Fenwick and another FCE Bishop, the Rt Rev Paul Hunt, "beguiled" elderly parishioners into handing over their status as trustees of church property.

This property was allegedly then registered by the trust in its own name without payment or the value being reflected in charity accounts, the complainants say. 

Bishop Fenwick told the newspaper a consultation was held with the congregation of St Stephen's before the decision was made to sell because it was "found to be in a dangerous state of repair".

The bishop said that some of the proceeds were then used to hire a new minister but he was let go in February this year after his appointment failed to lift attendance numbers.

The FCE Central Trust, speaking on behalf of both bishops, told the newspaper that it "vigorously refutes the allegations".

"If they are indeed the subject of Charity Commission and police investigations (though the Trust has been contacted by neither) then it would be inappropriate to comment further," it said.