In the Shadow of St Paul’s

Deceit, fraud and suicide in the Church of England.

Martin Sargeant had a taste for the finer things in life. A bulldog-faced man in his fifties, he carried Louis Vuitton luggage, sported a Mont Blanc watch and was a frequenter of the £500-a-night Marriott hotel in Canary Wharf. His more sober-minded colleagues scratched their heads as to how the church official could host meetings in lavish venues and luxuriate in fancy restaurants. He was always greedy for gossip: the more lurid the titbits, the better.

As he rose up the ranks at the Diocese of London, he became indispensable. Not only to bishops and archdeacons, but to the parish priests who needed the omnipresent fixer to help them repair their crumbling churches and get their balance sheets back into the black.

Sargeant’s schemes could be absurdly grandiose. He identified the Church of St Mary-le-Strand as being ripe for conversion into a London branch of the ‘Museum of the Bible’, a Washington, D.C. setup by billionaire Steve Green, which has been mired in scandal over attempts to use his Hobby Lobby craft stores to smuggle papyri and other manuscripts from the Middle East. As of 2020, the museum had been forced to repatriate more than 15,000 artefacts to Iraq and Egypt by US customs. None of this bothered Sargeant.

The unprepossessing, portly church official was actively courted by clergy. One such vicar was Philip Warner, who had been getting on splendidly with him. Sargeant had wangled some money to smarten up the tower of his Christopher Wren-designed church and so the cleric invited the official and his partner to a little dinner at the vicarage.

It came as something of a shock when, a few years later, the priest received an email from the diocese about extraordinary allegations Sargeant had made about him during an exit interview. The departing staffer told his bosses on his way out the door that Warner was ‘known to make passes at members of the congregation’.

The clergyman was flabbergasted at the ‘fantasy’ concocted by Sargeant’s salacious imagination. But what hurt the genteel Warner most was the betrayal. He had befriended his colleague, welcomed him into his home, only to be stabbed in the back. What Warner did not yet know was just how far Sargeant’s spool of deceit had spread throughout the Diocese of London. How many other innocent priests had been suckered by his lies. How much power and influence – and ill-gotten wealth – the fixer had accumulated over the decades. And how he had used it to such devastating and ultimately tragic effect when he was finally forced out.


No one is exactly sure when Martin Sargeant started working for the Diocese of London; various dates between 1997 and 2003 have been suggested. He came to the church with an already tarnished reputation: in 1995, he was found guilty on 19 counts of theft and served 21 months in prison – a fact he claims to have disclosed to the church, which his former colleagues have neither confirmed nor denied. Either way, by the mid-2000s, he was being recommended as a financial whizz who could manage their books. Over time his role expanded from collecting parish rates – an archaic tax that churches can request from local businesses – to becoming a general financial consultant.

He had become close to the then Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. Chartres had risen to the position via various ecclesiastical desk jobs and, some say, through his close friendship with the then Prince of Wales, next to whom he’d had rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the 1970s. Chartres could be charming and vivacious but also patrician and haughty. The technicalities of the diocese were of little interest to him as he reached the apex of the establishment – from choosing royal chaplains to officiating at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral – and that was where Sargeant fitted in.

Sargeant became adept at evading scrutiny and complaints about his machinations were ignored. In 2009, Sargeant took on – some say invented – the role of ‘Head of Operations’ for the Cities of London and Westminster. It was the only part of the Anglican Church which was bucking decline and ambitious plans were made to start 100 new churches by 2020. Someone was needed to help backwards parishes navigate this new era of innovation and wring more cash out of the lucre-loaded skyscrapers of the Square Mile.

Even as he ascended to become the bishop’s factotum, Sargeant was careful to sidestep accountability. He was never employed by the diocese, which held no personnel file on him and never interviewed him for any position or checked references. Instead, he had no manager or job description and was paid directly by the bishop. There, he operated as ‘the spider in the middle of the web’, said Warner.

More and more churches came under his sway or in his debt, enmeshed in complex financial transactions. Sargeant alone knew whose money was whose, and in which bank account. ‘None of us had any idea what pot we were bidding into and who was controlling it, but you had to make sure Martin Sargeant liked you,’ said Simon*, another City clergyman.


As a new decade dawned, Sargeant was embedded in the Old Deanery, the 17th-century mansion next to St Paul’s Cathedral which serves as the Bishop of London’s office. Traditional to the last, Chartres ran the diocese like a royal court, one cleric recalled. In his dining room in the Old Deanery was a great portrait of Henry VIII. Sargeant was able, like a Tudor courtier, to suggest that he had the king’s ear.

Another priest, Peter*, remembered being astonished at how much sway the archdeacon’s money man had accrued. He recalls that Sargeant once casually told him, while sipping Champagne at the launch party for a new diocesan initiative, that Peter should enjoy it while he could, as he was ‘pulling the plug’ on the scheme tomorrow.

As he swanned around the diocese, Sergeant carefully amassed gossip about his clerical colleagues. He was obsessed with vicars, especially those who were gay like him. Allegedly, he had taken to describing himself as a ‘Clerk in Holy Orders’ and been reprimanded for wearing a clerical dog collar. One London priest claimed Sargeant had (allegedly in the presence of Archdeacon Luke Miller) told a buyer interested in a property deal in his parish they should simply invent a ‘child abuse allegation’ to discredit the vicar if he tried to prevent the sale going through.

Unchecked by either archdeacon or bishop, Sargeant ran the City Churches Grants Committee as a personal fiefdom. He channelled grants into bank accounts he controlled and siphoned off some cash for himself, before then passing the rest on to the churches.

And he was not stealing pocket change. With a greed which grew alongside his sense of invincibility, Sargeant began pilfering larger and larger sums. In 2015, the American media giant Bloomberg was building a new London headquarters across the street from St Stephen’s Walbrook, a storied Wren church rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666. Bloomberg paid, via their developer, £550,000 into one of Sargeant’s accounts for compensation, which the fixer pocketed himself. Over the years, Sargeant eventually stole more than £5 million from the parishes for which he ostensibly worked, frittering his ill-gotten gains on a rampant gambling addiction, first-class transatlantic flights and luxury hotels, with his fraud running unchecked for years.

In 2017, Chartres reached mandatory retirement age and finally abdicated the cathedra after 22 years. He was succeeded by Sarah Mullally, who had risen to the role of Chief Nursing Officer in the NHS before taking the cloth.

Despite being told repeatedly the diocese would not run without Sargeant, Mullally was uneasy with his presence. Sargeant soon got the message: his time was up. The new Diocese of London had no space for fly-by-night fixers paid out of the bishop’s private fund. Less than a year after Mullally’s arrival, Sargeant was out the door. But before he left, he held a fateful exit interview.

The intention was, a later diocesan review said, to ‘download his corporate memory’. So Sargeant sat down for what turned into nine hours of interviews with Archdeacon Miller. The outcome was an infamous document, officially titled the Two Cities Report, but universally known as the ‘brain dump’. In it, Sargeant listed 42 priests as worthy of monitoring, alongside his rambling recollections of their alleged eccentricities, peccadilloes and secrets he had squirrelled away over the years.

Every titbit of gossip and rumour he had heard (and many more he had invented) was carefully handed down to Miller. The scuttlebutt and slander gathered over the years were filtered through Sargeant’s lurid imagination and then casually dropped into the lap of the diocese which had made him and then ejected him.

But what was in the ‘brain dump’ report? Today, it remains a closely guarded secret: only a single copy has been kept in the diocesan vault. Despite this, entries leaked out in dribs and drabs among the clergy. Eventually, each of the 42 was afforded the chance to read Sargeant’s accusations.

One priest, Robert*, had a typical story to tell. His entry recorded a jumbled snippet of classic parish intrigue: a member of staff had tried to turn his congregation against the priest in favour of her husband, a rival candidate for his post. ‘It was a depressing mix of the truth, half-truth and untruth,’ he said. Other times it was mindless office gossip. Another, Simon*, is described in the report as ‘a drunk but not an alcoholic’ (‘I’m convivial at a party,’ he said with a chuckle).

On Philip Warner, his one-time gracious host, Sergeant shared a bizarre tale about him being spirited away from his previous job in Serbia, as his life was under threat as a gay clergyman.

John’s* entry includes a garbled version of how his long-term partner had killed himself, which prompted a lapse into depression. ‘He is now living alone in the rectory at a camp, culturally “gay” church,’ the brain dump stated. ‘[He] noted that appropriate support needed to be given to him to avoid history repeating itself.’ The cleric said he found this wording ‘crass’ but was able to laugh it off mostly: ‘I don’t know if the last line means my next partner may kill himself or if they thought I would follow suit.’

Brendan*, a retired priest who has been brawling with the diocese for decades, ‘may be a homosexual, and is strange’, in Sargeant’s terms. But by Brendan’s name, Sargeant recorded the priest asking: ‘What, do you think I fuck altar boys?’ As Brendan relays, he did say this, but the response was provoked by Sargeant asking him whether he was a paedophile whose real motive for building a scout hut at his church was to groom youngsters.

Hugo* was staggered to read his excerpt. ‘Chaos seems to gather around him,’ his section begins, before recounting an error-strewn story about a mentally ill parishioner who had falsely accused the priest of a gay affair. It then describes Hugo as a ‘classic bachelor’, before noting his vicarage ‘could do with a good clean’.

But it was the next part which particularly horrified the cleric. ‘There was an accusation that [Hugo] had a student living with him in the vicarage.’ The young man in question was not a secret toyboy, as the brain dump implied, but Hugo’s godson. The youngster’s father had abandoned the family years earlier and he later lost his mother to suicide. He was now the ‘closest I will ever have to a son,’ said Hugo. ‘Of course I gave him keys, a room and anytime permission to come to the vicarage.’

For many of the 42 priests, emotions still run high. Betrayal and bewilderment mark their conversations. Some fear their reputations have been permanently blackened.


But all the suffering inflicted on these priests pales in comparison with the fate of Alan Griffin. Griffin – a somewhat lonely and vulnerable gay man – had been a vicar in the City since 2001 and by the end of the decade was well-acquainted with the ubiquitous ‘Head of Ops’. Around 2010, Sargeant – always greedy for gossip – uncovered Griffin’s greatest secret: the cleric was HIV positive. Distressed after his diagnosis and wrestling with problems in his parishes, Griffin attempted suicide a few months later. Sargeant found him in the vicarage and rushed him to hospital. Soon afterwards, Griffin negotiated a generous retirement deal, securing a parish house on a peppercorn rent for life, on top of his pension. A year later, in 2012, he quit the Church of England for good and became a Catholic.

Seven years passed without incident. Warner, who was a neighbour of Griffin’s in retirement, would sometimes enjoy pizza and drinks with the retired priest. He was ‘a slightly prickly, primmish, spinsterish sort of thing,’ Warner recalled. ‘He had a waspish tongue and after a couple of gins we put the world to rights.’ It is hard to imagine Griffin, enjoying a quiet retirement after a troubled end to his career, giving much thought to the interfering fixer.

But Sergeant had plenty to share.

In the meeting, Sargeant claimed Griffin had frequented ‘rent boys’, a comment which landed on the desk of the safeguarding team as ‘a priest recklessly paying for underage sex while HIV positive’. Then, the safeguarding machine cranked into gear and the narrative is clear to follow from the diocese’s later inquest. An independent investigator had been appointed and information – including Griffin’s HIV status – had been shared with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, who swiftly launched its own parallel inquiry. Throughout, officials refused to tell Griffin what he was being investigated for.

In December, a distraught and bewildered Griffin attempted suicide by overdose. It took until the following September before the clergyman was presented the full allegations. A later review said Griffin was ‘horrified and appalled’ by both the claims and the leaking of his private health information. He was also upset that the investigators kept insisting on an in-person meeting, despite him trying to self-isolate during COVID. In November, overwhelmed and heartbroken, Griffin made a final attempt on his life, and succeeded.

The coroner’s inquest into the death of Alan Griffin was a crucial moment in exposing the toxic world that Sargeant and the diocese had created. At the inquest, Sargeant conceded the critical phrase ‘rent boys’, which triggered the entire investigation, was actually his own wording. Contrary to the language used in the brain dump, he admitted Griffin had never paid for sex. And, thanks to HIV treatment, the cleric’s viral load was so low there was no risk of transmission.

Mary Hassell, the furious coroner, found Griffin had died by suicide ‘in despair’ at those unfounded investigations. Every allegation was untrue: Griffin had not abused children, nor had underage sex, visited prostitutes or risked transmitting HIV, she concluded.

Hassell was so incredulous at the fiasco that she issued a rare ‘Prevention of Future Deaths Report’, warning that without sweeping changes, a comparable tragedy could happen again. However, nobody would take an iota of responsibility: Sargeant, Miller, Mullally, the head of safeguarding and the manager who wrote the ‘brain dump’ down all told the coroner they were simply passing on information. It was only Hassell’s scathing criticism which prompted the diocese to admit the existence of Sargeant’s list, which until that point had been hidden. The 41 remaining named priests received emails regretfully informing them they’d been victims of Sargeant’s poison pen.

As astonished clergy began poring over their entries, the rest of Sargeant’s deceptions finally unravelled. One church which worked with him was beginning to wonder where all their money had gone. St Stephen’s Walbrook, the historic City parish next to Bloomberg’s London offices, had never seen a penny of the £550,000 they were owed. They shopped Sargeant to the police and by 2022 he had pleaded guilty to defrauding a total of £5.2m from the diocese. He was jailed for five years.


Slander, fraud, deceit and the tragic death of a vulnerable old man. All of this in the Diocese of London, one of the shining principalities of the Church of England. Who, then, is to blame?

For many of the victims of this miserable episode, the culprit is clear: the current Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally. While she may claim to have purged the diocese of its murkier elements, she was ultimately in charge during the disastrous denouement of Sargeant’s career. Even those, like Hugo, who concede the diocese had long been a ‘cesspit of toxicity’ insisted Mullally – who oversaw both the exit interviews and the brain dump investigations – was to blame. Almost nobody believes her claims that, despite this oversight, she has never actually read the brain dump report itself. ‘Mullally is all about process, but she’s also incompetent,’ said Hugo with obvious bitterness. ‘She has no pastoral ability or discernment.’ As a ‘boring woman into process’ (as one of the 42 priests put it), the comedown from the dramatic and mercurial Chartres has been severe and, in at least one case, fatal.

Mullally’s remaining defenders claim something else is at play. London is a hotbed of traditionalist priests who cannot reconcile themselves to women’s ordination. When her name comes up many of the clergy use nicknames such as ‘The Dame’ or even ‘Bedpan’ – a reference to her nursing background. Brendan breezily called her a ‘hard-nosed bitch’ and a ‘fucking cunt’. Another priest, Frank*, said as well as old-fashioned misogyny, many of the old guard also hated that ‘they can’t get away with nearly as much as they used to’.

Others identify Archdeacon Miller as most at fault. It was one thing for Sargeant to vomit out his blend of invective and spurious gossip; it was quite another for Miller to write it up and pass it on for action. Nothing in the brain dump related to the archdeacon’s actual responsibilities of buildings, development and administration. In at least one case, Miller himself is said to have been deeply involved in the events reported by Sargeant when they occurred and allegedly knew the real story. Frank stated that it was Miller who should have kept Sargeant on a tighter leash: ‘The day-to-day line manager, and the execution of Martin’s departure, was Luke Miller, [and] that was a car crash.’

Yet it is hard to believe the brain dump could have become so destructive without being immersed in the diocese’s internal dysfunction. Deeply scarred by previous abuse scandals, it has over-corrected and developed a highly defensive ‘investigate everything just to be on the safe side’ culture. Under Chartres, perhaps the brain dump would have been quietly filed away as the gossip it was; however, under the new regime in the Diocese of London it meant meetings, paper trails, consultants, reviews and policies enacted to the letter. Nobody who heard Sargeant’s stream of invective and innuendo pondered its reliability or relevance, but reflexively passed it on. The full cold-hearted machinery of bureaucracy was fired up and, ultimately, ate Alan Griffin whole.

Even in the aftermath of the disaster, nothing seems to have changed: when the coroner told the diocese she intended to criticise this reflexive habit of blindly handing anything to the safeguarding team, it pressed her to tone down her critique in case it dampened the number of referrals.

Perhaps, though, it isn’t even just one individual or subset of an organisation that is to blame. A final part of the puzzle is about sex. Running through the brain dump was Sargeant’s obsession with the private lives of the clergy; gay affairs and rumours of secret lovers. And this made it too hot to handle in the complicated ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture of the diocese. Official church teaching remains that only straight, married people can have sex, yet a significant minority of the priesthood are gay men. Sargeant’s greedy collection of gossip was also a subtle powerplay. David Gilmore, a former London cleric named on the brain dump, said he knew of others among the 42 who were ‘shit-scared’ their closeted sexualities would come to light because of the report.

In an extra layer of messiness, Sargeant himself is gay. Why was it that a man who was happily out and proud about his own homosexuality could not seem to cope with gay clerics who were more discreet in their own lives? Frank questioned the ‘integrity’ of the diocese in appointing an ‘openly gay man into an institution in which the truth about sexuality among clergy couldn’t be talked about’. He believes a broken man was enabled to become so dangerous by the broken institution he worked for.

Lord Chartres, Archdeacon Miller and Bishop Mullally did not respond to requests for comment and a spokesperson for the diocese would only refer to previous statements issued in 2022 when Sargeant’s fraud first came to light. Then, Bishop Mullally said the ‘Head of Ops’ had carried out a ‘gross betrayal of trust for all those who knew and worked with [him]’. When he left his role there was ‘no evidence of anything inappropriate at the time,’ she added, but it ‘now seems he exploited his position for personal gain’.

In their formal response to an independent review of Griffin’s death, the diocese wrote it apologised ‘wholeheartedly and unreservedly to his family and friends for the mistakes and shortcomings that contributed to what Fr Alan endured and to his death by suicide’. Their statement also acknowledged that individual and systemic failings in the diocese and wider church culture contributed to Griffin’s ‘distress’ both when he first attempted suicide in 2010 and when he killed himself a decade later. While the diocese was legitimately divided between those who opposed gay clergy and those who welcomed them on theological grounds, a culture of ‘hypocrisy and secrecy’ has made those in same-sex relationships feel ‘unsafe and vulnerable’, the document added.

Wherever the blame lies, at the heart of the story are humans operating, ruptured, in an institutional machine. Many of the 42 are still ‘deeply injured’ by the incident, said Simon, who acts as their unofficial spokesperson. As the whole affair unravelled, the diocese was already under immense strain. The COVID lockdowns set clergy against their bishops, with many priests livid at having to close their churches. Others were angered by moves to invest millions in a new wave of informal congregations meeting in pubs, coffee shops and cinemas. And throughout it all there was division and tension over the church-wide culture war about gay blessings. ‘There’s so little trust at the moment,’ Roger reflected. ‘And in London, all the anger and the issues have a face: that face is Martin Sargeant.’

* names changed for anonymity

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