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FUNERALS BOSS ROBS MOURNERS; Crook undertaker faces jail.

An undertaker faces jail for stealing money which mourners collected for charity at funerals.

James Wood also ripped off elderly people who paid in advance for their own burials.

Wood, 59, embezzled or stole more than pounds 12,000 over two years while manager of a Perth funeral parlour.

He took more than pounds 1000 from bereaved families. And he also embezzled from his own employers, using money meant to buy new drapes for the funeral parlour to get curtains for his own home.

But he was finally caught because he took pounds 100 of petty cash to pay for the curtains - then entered a receipt for pounds 200 to his firm.

They launched an investigation while Wood was on holiday and he confessed when confronted.

At Perth Sheriff Court yesterday, Wood admitted 15 charges of embezzlement and theft between March 1995 and July 1997.

It happened at local funeral directors Strang & McLagan, where he worked for 20 years.

Jane Benson, prosecuting, said: "He provided a list of names of clients from whom he had secured cash payments, and had kept the cash for his own use."

Wood, of Almondbank, Perthshire, was suspended and told the company he would repay the money.

But he had repaid nothing by the start of this year and the police were called in.

Mrs Benson said: "In one case an 87-year-old woman pre-paid for a funeral and was provided with a worthless document from the accused who took her money."

In November 1996, Wood organised a funeral at Perth Crematorium.

Mrs Benson added: "It was agreed that donations would go to Macmillan Nurses. Over pounds 300 was collected which the accused appropriated for his own use."

At another funeral last May at Collace Parish Church, Perthshire, mourners put pounds 535 in the collection plate. Wood said he had put pounds 15 in himself and would give the cash to good causes - but he kept it all.

Shirley Smith, defending, said Wood had financial problems.

She said: "He took the first money intending to pay it back. The thefts started because of his poor financial position and escalated. He was so ashamed of himself it was a relief when he was found out."

She said Wood was about to lose his house because he had no income, and his assets have been seized.

His wife was standing by him, as she had done when he was twice previously convicted for embezzlement more than 15 years ago.

Sheriff John Wheatley deferred sentence for three weeks but warned Wood that he faces prison.

A spokesman for Strang & McLagan said later they had honoured all the deals Wood made and all the funerals went as planned.

The firm had also replaced all the charity money Wood had stolen.
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Author:Frew, Callum
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 18, 1998
Words:460
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