Clergy defy safety plan

Defiant East Anglian church leaders have refused to be intimidated by threats of violence and said they will carry on wearing dog collars when not working.

Defiant East Anglian church leaders have refused to be intimidated by threats of violence and said they will carry on wearing dog collars when not working.

An independent group which advises clergy of all denominations has urged priests to make themselves less obvious targets by removing their dog collars when off-duty.

But officials in Norfolk said not wearing the collar was like “asking a policeman to not wear his uniform”, although agreed more measures were needed to protect clergy from intimidation in their homes.

Five vicars have been murdered in the past decade, and a 2001 academic study found that 12p of clergy had suffered some form of violence.

In 2005 former Norfolk clergyman Ian Brady was brutally stabbed as he walked from St Anselm's Church in Stanmore, north west London, to visit a parishioner after he tried to speak to a man loitering outside.

Jan McFarlane, communications officer for the Diocese of Norwich, said: “My immediate reaction to the report was that it was like asking a policeman not to wear his uniform in case it started a riot. However, we do feel the clergy need more training on how to deal with difficult situations. Clergy are more of a target because they live on patch and their houses are clearly marked out as vicarages. If people want money for drugs or alcohol they sometimes see clergy as a soft touch.

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“We need to make sure vicarages are protected but still accessible and discussions are currently taking place among senior staff as to how to do that.

“Norfolk is not like inner city London, which is perhaps why we haven't gotten to this sooner.”

Nick Tolson, from National Churchwatch, said he had experienced resistance to this idea of not wearing a collar from some vicars, who see how they dress as a way of assuring people they are available to help.

Mr Tolson said: “For some clergy this is real radical stuff. The argument against it is it's their witness in the community - their way of saying, 'hello, I'm the vicar'.

“That's fine when you're being the vicar. If you're visiting someone or going to an old people's home, wear your dog collar.

“That means you're with people. It's when you're on your own, that's the key thing.

“There are times when you can be in church on your own and you look out and see some guy who's obviously off his trolley. You may want to slip off the dog collar before you see him.”

Many attacks on clergy are motivated by money, and drug addiction is often a factor, he said.

In a survey of 90 London clergy Mr Tolson carried out last year, nearly half said they had been attacked in the previous 12 months.

One vicar, from Willesden, north-west London, said his vicarage had been machine-gunned - but still did not believe he had experienced violence.

Hereward Cooke, vicar of St Stephens Church in Norwich, added: “There have been some instances of clergy being intimidated in Norwich but very often it is in their own homes when people who come seeking food, shelter or money are not being given what they want.

“I find that when I am walking around Norwich in a collar I get an exceptionally warm reaction, even from young men who make a joke and use humour rather than violence.”

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