A vicar who took the disabled blue badge of a dead parishioner so he could park for free has swerved a jail sentence.
Father Bill Haymaker stole the badge from woman who had died two months earlier and then used it in his own car.
The vicar of St Paul’s Anglican Parish in Bexhill, East Sussex was caught red-handed by a traffic warden parking in a disabled bay.
Father Bill Haymaker has avoided a jail sentence after he was convicted over using a dead parishioner’s disabled parking badge
The 64-year-old claimed he had agreed to hand the badge of the dead woman back to the council as part of registering her death but had simply forgotten.
He later described it as one of those ‘oh shoot’ moments and an honest mistake and claimed he was telling the ‘gospel truth’.
Today he was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay £3,700 in court costs.
Haymaker, who was ordained in 1984, was prosecuted by East Sussex Council for the offence which took place in Western Road, Bexhill in December 2015.
Haymaker paid for his parking ahead of his court hearing in Hove today
The court was previously told the vicar was parking his car in a disabled bay on the busy main road in the seaside town when he was stopped and questioned by a council traffic warden.
The father-of-two claimed to provide pastoral care for terminally ill and poorly parishioners which includes running day-to-day errands for them and driving them to hospital and doctor appointments.
But a jury took just 45 minutes to unanimously find him guilty of possessing an article for use in a fraud.
After his conviction Haymaker, who was accompanied to Hove Crown Court by his official clerical dog The Venerable Mr Piddles, said he had made an ‘honest mistake’.
He said his actions had not been malicious and claimed the badge had been displayed in a mix up because he had up to seven of the permits in his glove compartment.
The vicar said he intended to display another active badge belonging to the patient he was chauffeuring at the time but they were mixed up because they all look very similar.
Sentencing him at Hove Crown Court, Judge Christine Henson QC said: ‘You used the disabled blue badge that did not belong to you. You used it to commit a fraud, to convince the authorities you had a legitimate parking claim.’
Haymaker told the court he does not officiate in a church but works within the community carrying out funerals and errands for parishioners for which he receives no payment.
Haymaker was caught using the dead woman’s pass in this street in Bexhill, East Sussex
A popular figure, Haymaker also runs his own charity, Project New Life, which helps abused and neglected children in Moldova and Romania.
He has raised funds through donations and travelled to both countries to help improve the lives of children living in orphanages and homes.
Mark Jobling, the council’s enforcement officer, said after the case: ‘As an ordained priest, Haymaker is someone in a position of considerable responsibility and trust, who ought to set a good example for others to follow.
‘Instead, he shamelessly used a Blue Badge belonging to a woman who had died and then tried to talk his way out of trouble with a series of excuses the jury unanimously rejected.’