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St Paul's official stole from cathedral collections

THE DEAN'S virger of St Paul's Cathedral stole pounds 265 from collections, City of London magistrates were told yesterday.

Michael John Heather, 51, of Amen Court, Ave Maria Lane, London, admitted three charges of theft and was given a two- year conditional discharge and ordered to pay pounds 35 costs.

Cesare Ferrari, for the prosecution, told the court: 'The thefts are thefts from collections from an evening service and weekend services. After services, money is transferred to an overnight safe before being transferred to the cash office where it is counted.

'There are three other virgers and aspects of this defendant's behaviour caused colleagues to keep observation on him.'

Mr Ferrari said that following a service on Friday 22 June, pounds 60 was missing. Bank notes were counted on 25 June before pounds 110 went missing.

On 3 July, it was decided to put a counted amount in the collection and the following day, pounds 95 was missing. Heather was the only keyholder with access, Mr Ferrari said.

On 5 July, he was arrested and taken to a police station where he admitted three offences. He was dismissed from his job the same day.

Mr Ferrari added: 'He was suffering from a certain amount of stress working in the environment of the cathedral. He has since paid back all the money and he was a man of good character.'

The post of virger is a lay position but it carries with it the right to wear a cassock. Heather, who was dean's virger for more than three years, ran a department of 20 people, providing ecclesiastical, liturgical and ceremonial support to the Dean and Chapter. His salary was pounds 20,000 a year.

The treasurer of the cathedral in charge of the virgers, Canon Michael Saward, said after the hearing: 'The Dean and Chapter are deeply saddened by what has happened. It came as a big shock to learn that he was stealing from the safe. He gave us no option but to call in the police.'