Fraudster cons church people out of thousands of pounds

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Church members were left ‘picking up the pieces’ after a Bury St Edmunds conman treated them like ‘cash cows’ and duped them into handing over more than £4,000.

Sean Malarkey falsely claimed to have terminal cancer and accepted loans from members of the Vineyard Church, in Bury, after winning their sympathy through lies

The 44-year-old, of St James Lane, Bury, was eventually caught out after two and a half years, when a couple, convinced by Malarkey that he had been kidnapped, elicited the help of police.

Ipswich Crown Court heard on Friday that CCTV images recovered by police showed Malarkey in a local betting shop at the time he alleged he had been snatched.

Malarkey, a former Big Issue seller, was jailed for 29 months after pleading guilty to fraud and to breaching a conditional discharge.

Matthew Gowen, prosecuting, saidthat in 2010, Malarkey came to the attenton of Richard Stephens and his wife through the Vineyard Church.

The couple had no reason to doubt what he told them of his background was true, including having an inheritance of more than £147,000 in trust.

Mr Gowen said Malarkey told the couple he was suffering from liver and lung cancer and, after being loaned money to help fund a private operation, claimed to have been cured.

At the end of 2011, Malarkey said the stress of money worries had caused his cancer to return, prompting a further £1,000 loan. Mr Stephens handed him a further £1,000 after he claimed he was under threat from a drug dealer.

After being caught out, Malarkey sent Mr and Mrs Stephens disparaging messages, including one accusing them of being Judases, said Mr Gowen.

Mr Recorder Karim Khalil said Malarkey had regarded the people who had tried to help him as ‘cash cows’.

This week, Mark Williams, executive pastor of the Vineyard Church, said: “As a church we always want to help people and we don’t put any conditions or boundaries on the help we give, but it’s sad when we find out they’re not being honest about their circumstances.”

He said the experience would not stop Mr and Mrs Stephens from helping others.

“They’re passion is to help people, so much so that they give up their time voluntarily to go into prisons and talk about Jesus and the good news of the Bible.

“They see the bigger picture of what they’re doing and it’s unfortunate to have a set-back along the way but their passion is still helping people like Sean who, ironically, will now be inside prison.”