Attacks on church leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk revealed

Funeral of Fiona Anderson at St Michael's church, Oulton, Lowestoft.
The Revd Simon Ward. Funeral of Fiona Anderson at St Michael's church, Oulton, Lowestoft. The Revd Simon Ward.

Peter Walsh Crime correspondent peter.walsh@archant.co.uk
Thursday, January 16, 2014
6:40 AM

They operate an open door policy welcoming some of society’s most troubled and vulnerable but it has emerged that church leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk have been the unlikely victims of a number of assaults and harassment offences over the past five years.

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According to information obtained by Freedom of Information (FoI) requests Norfolk police revealed three vicars and a minister have been victims of various offences since 2009.

In August 2009 a vicar reported being the victim of an offence of fear or provocation of violence while in July 2011 police recorded an offence of common assault and battery after they received a report from a vicar. Both crimes resulted in an offender being arrested.

In March 2012 police in Norfolk received a report that a vicar was the victim of harassment in March 2012, resulting in the offender being issued with a police information notice, while in March 2012 an offender was arrested after a minister reported being a victim of harassment.

In Suffolk police received five reports of assaults on church leaders from 2010 to 2013; they also received three reports of harassment in 2008, 2011 and 2012.

The Rev Simon Ward, chaplain to the Bishop of Norwich, said: “I don’t think the statistics are something that strike fear into us and make us feel that something has gone horribly wrong, or we need to change.

“Any case where something bad happens is obviously a cause for concern but we’ve got to keep it in perspective. We’re open, accessible and, I hope, welcoming and yes occasionally pastoral concern gets misconstrued and we have some people who come in and exhibit unpleasant or anti-social behaviour. It does happen but it’s very, very rare.”

Last January we reported how Maureen Peace, then 50, became fixated with the Rev Keith Rengert, who she bombarded with letters, cards and gifts for two years.

In August last year, she pleaded guilty to harassment and magistrates banned her from contacting the Spixworth rector who was previously curate at St Nicholas’ Church, North Walsham.

But Peace sent a letter to the married rector days afterwards and she returned to court for breaching the order.

Judge Mark Lucraft handed her a 12-month community and supervision order with a mental health requirement, with the restraining order to remain in place. But he warned her that if she breached the order again she would go to jail.

The figures have been released by the social think-tank Parliament Street in an attempt to highlight the dangers experienced by church leaders in the country.

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