Cheque fraud couple posed as vicar and wife

A couple who posed as a vicar and his wife while using stolen cheque books to buy antiques, jewellery and paintings avoided being jailed for their "spree of deception".

Anthony Hooke, 45, and his wife, Ivy, 46, used a "polished act" to buy expensive goods from shops and galleries in Devon and Somerset between May and December 2000, Bristol Crown Court was told.

The couple, from Uffculme, Devon, admitted a string of offences, including four joint charges of obtaining property by deception.

Sentencing the couple yesterday, the judge, Recorder Trevaskis, described them as a "professional pair of fraudsters". Hooke was ordered to do 180 hours' community service, while his wife was given a four-month curfew order.

Rosie Collins, for the prosecution, told the court that the couple had adopted the disguise to gain the trust of shopkeepers. Hooke wore clerical collars and carried fake business cards and claimed to be buying gifts for parishioners or their church. They would ask for receipts so they could claim the money back.

When they were arrested, they were found with clerical uniforms, stolen cheque books and cards, and items they had purchased.

Nicholas Fridd, defending Mrs Hooke, described her as a "vulnerable" woman and said there was clearly "somebody in the background" who had put pressure on her to commit the fraud. Stephen Mooney, defending Mr Hooke, also talked of a third party putting pressure on the couple.