A CHURCH pastor from Hazlemere who defrauded almost £250,000 from worshippers, family members and friends, was yesterday on the run after failing to turn up to court for sentencing.
Bruce Scott, 50, had been last seen by a traffic camera driving in his car towards a motorway at the time he was supposed to be in the dock.
A judge ordered an immediate warrant for his arrest, after he heard the couple and their four children had been the subject to a vigilante campaign since their convictions for fraud and theft in November last year.
The preacher, who had formerly worked at the Covenant Church of the Cross in Farnham Common, had already been warned to expect a jail sentence after being found guilty of a 14-year swindle, along with his wife Belinda, 43.
She turned up at Reading Crown Court yesterday after not seeing her husband since he left their home to go to work that morning.
Mrs Scott was given a conditional discharge by Judge Richard Parkes, who said she had "limited culpability" in the frauds committed by her "forceful" husband.
During a six-week trial, a jury heard Mr Scott swindled money from individuals and businesses he met through work and his church, and misused it.
He convinced his victims to part with thousands of pounds in cash in return for business loans, which were never repaid by the South African couple.
Nine victims, including a private school, were owed a whopping total of £248,000 pounds, between 1998 and 2012.
One woman handed them £41,000 pounds and ended up losing her home in South Africa as a result of their illicit actions.
The father-of-four had been an Evangelical preacher in America in the early 2000s before going on to become pastor of the church in Farnham Common.
His defence counsel John Upton told the judge yesterday: "It appears Mr Scott went out to where he was working this morning and told Mrs Scott he would be back, and did not return."
Mr Upton told the judge the couple, of Overdales, Hazlemere, had their car tyres slashed since the court case ended and have been victims of a hate campaign.
Judge Parkes responded by saying: "The Scott family have been subject to a very stressful campaign of harassment and intimidation since their convictions in December.
"That is a deplorable state of affairs. Punishment is for the courts, not half-witted vigilantes."
He ordered a warrant for the preacher's arrest and told his wife she would receive a 12-month conditional discharge.
Addressing Mrs Scott, the judge said her husband was "a man with a forecful personality and a strong self-belief who had an ability to inspire trust and belief in others."
He added: "He has not shown himself worthy of that trust."
The judge said Mrs Scott, who was convicted of one count of fraud by false representation, had a limited role in the fraudulent scheme ran by her husband.
He said: "Mrs Scott, I judge to be a loyal spouse and mother who has had great faith in her husband and left business matters to him.”
Bruce Scott was convicted of 10 counts of fraud after the six-week trial at Reading Crown Court.
At an earlier sentencing hearing, which had to be adjourned, prosecutor Rachel Drake said: "For a church to survive, it relies on donations or gifts from the congregants.
"Mr Scott took responsibility for the finances, alongside his wife and the congregants would regularly receive particular requests and appeals for services.
"The Scotts were obviously trusted within the church community. Mr Scott effectively traded on his position, using his status as a minister and his status as a businessman.
"Victims have been left distressed at the loss of their money."
During the trial, the jury was told that Bruce Scott took over a commercial lease in Market Square, Amersham, from a couple and failed to pay them £45,000 pounds he owed.
He also falsely promised to repay £60,000 pounds to a church friend Mario Petrou.
Mr Petrou had obtained the money as a loan for a share of a restaurant but no financial returns ever materialised and the lender's family life crumbled as the pressure of having to repay the loan grew.
Scott also failed to repay £41,020 pounds to George Criticos, £17,000 pounds to Philip Burley, nearly £10,000 pounds to Michael Spinks and £20,000 pounds to Zahlia Wilcox.
He took £5,575 pounds from pensioner June Davis on the false pretence that it was to be used by the church, and failed to pay more than £8,000 pounds in rent for a property in Burnham, the jury heard.
The couple also owed almost £10,000 pounds in private school fees for their children, aged seven to 19.
In addition to this, Bruce Scott was also convicted of failing to pay rent of more than £32,000 pounds in commercial rent for a premises in Farnham Common.
The couple had 15 bank accounts at the same branch of Lloyds TSB, some held jointly and others separate.
John Upton, defending Bruce Scott, told the hearing: "It started as a single transaction, not fraudulent from the outset.
"There were no vulnerable victims.
"It did not require sophisticated planning, although the investment required planning.
"It was more of a reckless inability to resist temptation."
Jennifer Edwards, defending Belinda Scott, said: "As with her husband, Mrs Scott is also of previous good character.
"She has already paid back more than £3,000 pounds. That is 30 percent of the total amount she owes and because of this judgement oath it might be that a Proceeds Of Crime Act may not apply to her."
Mrs Scott walked free as the court heard Bruce Scott had been sighted driving his car on the A40 towards Beaconsfield at around 2.50pm yesterday.
Police have not been able to confirm any updates to this matter at time of uploading.