SUSPENDED churchman Douglas Cranston has been found not guilty of multiple charges of stealing funeral collection money and wedding deposits.

A long-running trial heard how Cranston told couples to make out cheques in his name and deliver envelopes containing cash to his manse in Kilmacolm.

The minister — who preached at the village's St Columba Church — was accused of helping himself to money intended for dementia and heart charities.

Bereaved relatives of deceased people testified that it was Cranston alone who had suggested that 'retiral offerings' be taken at the services he conducted.

But a sheriff yesterday acquitted the 58-year-old cleric of all six charges against him.

He declared: "It is not for the accused to prove his innocence."

Sheriff Andrew McIntyre acknowledged in his findings that missing money concerning one charge had 'not been properly accounted for' and that there was 'an absence of clear evidence' to support Cranston in another.

However, the sheriff returned verdicts of not guilty on all matters.

Cranston — whom it has been confirmed remains suspended by the Church of Scotland — said 'no comment' when approached by the Telegraph following the verdicts.

The minister said that wedding deposit money he paid in to his personal bank account was ultimately given to a now-deceased church organist for her services at the ceremonies.

After being charged by police, Cranston and two parish pals filmed him at the manse taking cash from a filing cabinet which he said was money from a funeral years previously.

However, one £20 Bank of England note had not been issued until a year after that particular service.

Cranston testified that the note had been given to him by a woman who had 'accosted' him in Tesco 'regarding a funeral a number of months previously'.

He said he put it in the envelope pertaining to the funeral and 'marked it accordingly'.

Witnesses told the trial that the money for that service was to go to a dementia charity but Cranston said they were all 'mistaken' and it was to go to the Hamilton Bardrainney Church, which he was also responsible for.

He said he'd kept the money in the filing cabinet because a minister was yet to be appointed to that parish.

Sheriff McIntyre said that his verdicts were 'in no way a reflection' of witnesses — who included a doctor, a retired firefighter and a university official.

The sheriff said: "The system operated by Rev Cranston can best be described as chaotic."

He was satisfied that money was paid by Cranston to the deceased organist — who died of cancer — because there was evidence she'd returned some money to him when she was unable to perform.

The sheriff said that this, Cranston's evidence about keeping cash for years in the filing cabinet, gave him 'substantial doubt' as to his alleged guilt.

Addressing fact of the filing cabinet filming matter, the sheriff said: "I would have to accept that this was part of a scheme to cover up fraudulent actions.

"It is not inconceivable that such a course of conduct could have been undertaken but I am not satisfied that is what happened here."

Regarding a charge accusing Cranston of embezzling £100 from his congregation by withholding some wedding deposit money, the sheriff said: "There is an absence of clear evidence to support the accused's account, but it is not for the accused to prove his innocence."

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “We note the decision of the court in relation to Douglas Cranston who is currently on administrative suspension from his role as a minister.

"Mr Cranston’s conduct will now be considered by the church’s internal disciplinary procedure and as such we are not able to comment further at this time.”