LEADERS at Amblecote Christian Centre say they placed "naive trust" in disgraced former treasurer Stephen Methuen who pleaded guilty to defrauding the church and a religious charity to the tune of £500,000.

The 57-year-old, who was a member of the Brettell Lane church for 16 years, admitted 16 charges of dishonesty when he appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday (Thursday July 26).

Six of the charges, committed between 2003 and 2009, were for false accounting while he was a volunteer treasurer at Amblecote Christian Centre - which he was asked to leave in 2009 after the offences came to light.

While another six related to false accounting while he was treasurer of the Christian International Relief Mission.

A further three charges, committed between 2005 and 2009, involved cheating the revenue by submitting over inflated Gift Aid repayment claims while at Amblecote Christian Centre near Stourbridge.

The offences were discovered when Adrian Lowe, who became the church's senior pastor in 2005, noticed irregularities while carrying out an assessment to determine if there were sufficient funds for extending the reach of the charity's work.

He said in a statement released after Methuen admitted the charges: "It's a very sad day. Not only was Steve trusted by the congregation as a volunteer but he was also a personal friend. He occupied a position of absolute trust which was abused.

"As soon as the irregularities were uncovered we called an emergency meeting of our members and told them all that we could, given that a full police investigation was underway.

"In all honesty and with the benefit of hindsight we placed naive trust in Steve, and obviously, in retrospect, should not have been so trusting where money was involved.

"We are grateful for the continuing support both of our congregation and our community partners. We as a church sincerely desire to continue to serve the borough, and the wider district, in a way which is honouring to God."

He said since the offences emerged in 2009 leaders at the popular evangelical church carried out a "thorough review" of the charity's governance and new measures and tighter controls were introduced immediately to ensure the protection of donations given by members of the 400-strong congregation.

Church leaders said Methuen's guilty pleas marked a "significant step towards the closure of what seems a long and stressful process both for Steve's family and members of our congregation".

And they said they hoped the case would be a turning point for the former accountant from Smalman Close, Wordsley, who was told he is likely to face jail when he returns to court at a later date for sentencing.