A KIDDERMINSTER clergyman accused of stealing £61,429 from a vulnerable man told a jury how he had become friends with his alleged victim, the late Peter Court.

The Rev Peter Hesketh said their friendship blossomed after he had called in for a drink at The Woodman, the Ribbesford pub at Bewdley run by Mr Court and his mother Nellie.

"We became extremely close because of the problems he had with his family," Hesketh told the jury. "We were as close as brother and sister."

Hesketh, 65, of The Presbytery, Shrewsbury Road, Kidderminster, was giving evidence on the fifth day of his trial at Worcester Crown Court.

He described how he and his wife Marie lived in a church-owned house. He had been ordained in 1992 as a permanent deacon of the catholic church and his posts included being a chaplain at Worcester Royal Hospital for one day a week.

The father-of-five was also chairman of the governors of St Ambrose Catholic primary school in Kidderminster.

Nellie Court died in 2004 and Peter Court's wife Sheila had died two years previously.

Hesketh said he had embarked on two business ventures with Peter Court - a scheme to import wood from Nigeria and one to import plastic garden furniture from Italy. Neither scheme had got off the ground.

Hesketh said he would have been paid £20,00 and his partner would have received a percentage of any profit. No-one else in the family was interested.

He added that he helped with the administration of the caravan site adjoining The Woodman. There was no agreement with the caravan owners. "The papework was a disaster," he said, and he filled in Mr Court's tax returns.

The prosecution alleges that Hesketh stole cash from Mr Court when he was granted power of attorney to look after his financial affairs. Mr Court was living in Richmond Road, Bewdley, when he became unable to look after himself and was admitted to a care home in Kinlet.

The trial continues