A SWINDON vicar whose son stole nearly £26,000 from a local community group says he does not understand why he did it.

Rev Rob Burles' son Nathan has been jailed for nine months for plundering thousands from the Parks and East Walcot Neighbourhood Renewal Company, where he was working before going to university.

Swindon Crown Court heard that after paying off his credit card bill of nearly £3,000 and buying himself a top-of-the-range laptop, the 20-year-old used more than £16,000 to buy 1,200 DVDs.

Rev Burles, vicar of St John the Baptist Church in Walcot, said: "I'm obviously very upset and shocked at what has happened, and also the result of it, in terms of the sentence.

"Although we had been warned of the potential consequences, it's still a shock.

"Nathan feels ashamed, remorseful and a bit bewildered. He regrets what he did. We had no idea until it was discovered."

Rev Burles and his wife, Tina, plan to visit their son in prison as soon as possible. He said he hoped he could maintain good relations with the East Walcot Neighbourhood Renewal Company.

"The group is as worried and concerned for Nathan as others are," he said.

Despite the difficulties, the family are trying to look on the positive side, and Rev Burles said: "It's probably made us stronger, supporting one another.

"We've received some fantastic support from friends. Only time will tell whether this will make my job more difficult, but I expect we will get great support from parishioners."

The court was told that the renewal company was a struggling community group. The judge confiscated all of Nathan's purchases, giving them to the non-profit organisation, set up in 2002 with cash from the South West Regional Development Fund.

Philip Warren, prosecuting, said Burles was taken on by the group last summer and was paid about £7,000 with a £750 bonus when he left to go to York University.

"It appears he was trusted and delegated with considerable responsibility and regarded as something of a wizard with the computer," said Mr Warren.

"By October, when he left, the manager of the project found she was unable to access certain parts of the computer and that the bank balance was low."

Burles had taken three cheques.

"He then filled them in for sums and placed them before one of the directors of the project, who, not having time to check every cheque placed before him and trusting this defendant not to be doing anything he shouldn't, signed them," said Mr Warren.

"He then further falsified the computer accounts to conceal where those three cheques had gone."

The matter was eventually reported to the police.

Mr Warren said that the total amount taken was £25,897.11 but the organisation also lost a further £3,260 in computer consultancy fees, repairs to the system and a replacement server.

Burles, of Verwood Close, Park North, admitted six counts of theft and three of false accounting.

Rob Ross, defending, said: "It is every parent's worst nightmare to find out something like this has happened.

"It is a neighbourhood project which can't afford to lose its funding. A £30,000 gap in its finances isn't going to be replaced by Harry Potter DVDs.

"His father is a local vicar and having known him for many years he is someone instrumental in allowing his church to be used for a lot of neighbourhood good."

Mr Ross said that his client's family were prepared to cash in their investments to help him pay back what he took but accepted a compensation order could not be made against Burles as he had no money.

Jailing him, Recorder Nicolas Gerasimidis said: "You are an intelligent young man and you must have realised what the impact would have been to the projects in the community.

"This was serious dishonesty and the court has a duty to send a message that such dishonesty can't be tolerated."

Burles submitted to the court cheques for his £750 bonus and the £2,996.39 he used for his credit card.

After jailing him and ordering him to repay the £3,546.39, he added: "It is entirely a matter of conscience as to whether or not any member of your family feel it is appropriate to reimburse the company for your wrongdoing."

We hope he can rebuild his life'

Sara Slack, chairwoman of the Parks and East Walcot Neighbourhood Renewal Company, which works towards the regeneration and renewal of the area and funds local projects, issued the following statement.

During the early autumn, the scheme manager, in routine checking of the accounts, discovered that there appeared to be funds missing.

After further investigations and ratification by the company auditors, who were asked to check this over, the board instructed that the police should be called in to investigate.

A former employee was charged and sentenced. The board is grateful that this was discovered internally before an external audit.

The funds taken were the company's own funds, and were the three-month contingency that any company should have.

They were not Government funds and will not affect, in any way, those who have been given grants or might still be given grants (though most of the grant capital has been given out or promised).

Some of the lost funds and property purchased will be returned and some compensation will be received.

The scheme manager has reviewed and tightened procedures to ensure that something like this should not happen again.

As the person concerned has been sentenced and is receiving punishment, the board does not propose to say anything further about this regrettable matter.

Nathan was a valued member of the staff and we are disappointed that this has happened but hope that after Nathan has served his sentence he will be able to pick up the pieces and rebuild his life.