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AN UNDERTAKER who ripped off grieving families and stole from collection trays at funerals was yesterday jailed for six months.

James Wood kept more than pounds 10,000 he was paid for funeral expenses.

The 59-year-old also pocketed donations from mourners which were intended for various charities.

On one occasion, Wood promised to pay pounds 300 collected at a funeral to a cancer charity - but it was never handed over.

At another funeral, in May last year, mourners contributed pounds 535 to a collection.

Wood promised to add pounds 15 himself before distributing it to good causes but he again pocketed the cash.

At Perth Sheriff Court, he admitted embezzling pounds 10,942 at various locations around Perthshire between March 1995 and July 1997. He also admitted stealing pounds 1500 .

Sheriff John Wheatley told him: "For over two years you embarked on a cynical and structured embezzlement of substantial sums of money from your employers.

"You were quite prepared in a cynical manner to steal from the elderly, the bereaved and from charities.

"I have to impose a prison sentence to deter anyone else from behaving in the deceitful and abominable manner you did in this case."

Wood, who sat with his head bowed throughout, also had his pounds 22,000 share of the money from the sale of his house confiscated by the Crown.

The court heard Wood, of Perth, was caught after the US owners of Strang & McLagan funeral directors launched an investigation over a pair of curtains.

He had been told to take money to buy them for the funeral parlour but had instead bought them for his own home.

When he was confronted, he confessed to numerous other deceptions.

Several of the cases involved elderly people who had paid for their own funerals in advance.

Sheila Smith, defending, said Wood had worked for the company for 20 years but had financial problems which spiralled after he began an affair.

She said: "He took the money at first, fully intending to pay it back. Things escalated from there."

Mrs Smith said his wife was standing by him and was now living in a council house because their home had been sold when Wood's assets were seized.

She said Wood had health problems and suffered from depression, exacerbated by the court case.

Sheriff Wheatley said he was taking that into account, as well as the fact no client would lose money because the Crown had confiscated the pounds 22,000.

Strang & McLagan confirmed all the funerals Wood was involved with had gone ahead as planned.
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Author:Mulford, Sarah
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 27, 1998
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