South African pastor convicted of fraud in UK escapes jail
A South African-born pastor was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for defrauding members of a Buckinghamshire community of a total sum of almost £250,000 over a 14-year period – but he never pitched up to be led away to prison.
Bruce Scott, 50, and his wife Belinda, 43, were convicted on 11 counts of fraud back in November 2013 and were due to appear again in court for their sentencing last week. When Belinda Scott arrived only to be handed a one-year conditional discharge on a single count of fraud, husband Bruce was nowhere to be seen, after having previously been told to expect a prison sentence.
Bruce and Belinda Scott had been operating the evangelical “Covenant Church of the Cross” in Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, since 2000, which allegedly served as a front to attract unsuspecting worshippers to their fraudulent scheme, as was revealed during the six-week court case last year. They largely coaxed loans out of their congregants under the pretence of church funding while setting up a series of failing start-up businesses. One of their swindle victims lost her house in South Africa on account of not being repaid a personal loan of £41,000 given to the Scotts.
Following the court ruling, a local hate campaign ensued, alienating the Scotts and their four children, aged 7 to nineteen, from their community by way of “harassment and intimidation,” as their defence counsel John Upton pleaded in court.
Bruce Scott is now considered to be on the run and may possibly have returned to his home in Johannesburg, South Africa; the police had previously confiscated the couple’s passports during the trial but it is unknown whether the couple had retained South African citizenship in addition to their British nationalities. British police would not comment on whether the South African Police Service or Interpol would be informed with regard to the matter.
The presiding judge at Reading Crown Court has ordered a warrant for Mr Scott’s arrest. He was last spotted driving in the general direction of the M4, where CCTV cameras captured the last images of him.
50-year-old Bruce Scott had been an evangelical preacher in the United States in the 1990s before coming to the UK. It is unknown whether there are any outstanding issues with the law against him there or in South Africa. His name joins the list of other South African fraudsters and con artists to have operated in the UK.
By Sertan Sanderson, 2014