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Think tank says assaulting clergy is a hate crime

10 January 2014


Extreme case: police and security guards outside the vicarage in Thornbury, south Gloucestershire, where Revd John Suddards was found murdered, in February 2012 ( News, 16 February, 2012) 

Extreme case: police and security guards outside the vicarage in Thornbury, south Gloucestershire, where Revd John Suddards was found murdered, in F...

THE threats faced by Christian ministers from various denominations, from dog-bites to grievous bodily harm, have been laid bare in new figures collated from Freedom of Information requests by the think tank Parliament Street. In the five years since 2008, ministers and priests have suffered 161 assaults, across 24 police-force areas. Parliament Street is now calling on the Government to define attacks on clerics as a "religious hate crime".

There appear to be few patterns revealed by the figures. The incidents range from a clergyman being struck by stones thrown by trespassing youths, to a lay preacher who was hit in the face from behind while in church.

One of the more bizarre cases took place in Hertfordshire last year: a priest tried to stop someone who had driven into a parked car from fleeing the scene. The offender struck the pursuing priest on the back with a "wooden object", knocking him down. Another incident in Hertford-shire, this time in 2011, featured a cleric bitten on the fingers by an unknown assailant.

Only two of the 161 attacks (one on Merseyside and one in the Thames Valley police area) were officially classed as religiously aggravated assault. It was not possible to discern a trend year-on-year, as some police forces did not record attacks by calendar year. London appears to be the most dangerous area for ministers: the Metropolitan Police said about 57 of the incidents took place within its area, 35 per cent of the total.

A spokeswoman for Parliament Street, Clare George-Hilley, said attacks made on Christian leaders were often overlooked in the media. "It is unacceptable that people who dedicate their lives to supporting communities and improving lives are subjected to harassment and violent assaults in modern Britain," she said. "The Government has the opportunity to take steps to classify assaults on clergymen as a religious hate crime, sending a clear signal that faith can be practised freely, and that it is protecting the people who make up the pillars of British communities."

In a statement, a C of E spokesman said: "Clergy in the Church of England are both leaders and servants of their churches and communities. They are often the subject of vilification for serving in the name of Christ, and largely bear [this] with good humour. However, as these figures show, they also bear the brunt of more vicious and brutal attacks."

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment on the figures, and said that the classification of attacks on clerics was up to individual police forces.


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