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
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.