Diocese of Lichfield hits back at newspaper article

The statement on the Diocese of Lichfield's website

The statement on the Diocese of Lichfield's website

The Diocese of Lichfield has hit back after a newspaper claimed it was keeping parishoners in the dark about the absence of a village vicar.

The Burton Mail reported that the 46-year-old Rev Dominic Stone, the vicar of Marchington, Marchington Woodlands, Kingstone and Church Leigh, had been arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent photographs and released on police bail pending further enquiries.

But the article also featured quotes from a resident suggesting the church had “covered up” the incident and left the congregation in the dark over the vicar’s absence since February.

Gavin Drake, the director of communications for the Diocese of Lichfield, hit back at the claims. in a statement he said:

“The Burton Mail today uses un-named sources to make serious accusations that the Diocese of Lichfield has engaged in a ‘cover up’ of a crime, yet in the same article they state that the ‘crime’ is being investigated by Staffordshire Police.  How can there be a cover up when the appropriate authority is conducting an investigation?  There is a significant difference between covering something up and not being open with the public about an ongoing police investigation.

“The Diocese of Lichfield will always co-operate with the police during enquiries – and that includes not saying or doing anything which could jeopardise any investigation.  The police need the time and space to conduct an investigation and during this time the police are the lead authority and they will decide what, if any, information is to be made public.

“The Diocese of Lichfield will not attempt to second-guess the police and put information into the public domain until the police are ready for that information to be made public.”

Mr Drake also added that the Diocese of Lichfield was following set procedures. He explained:

“It is a very rare occurrence for a priest to be charged with a serious offence, but the Diocese of Lichfield has a policy of informing the media whenever one of its priests has been charged and is due to appear before the courts.

“But it is equally possible that evidence gathered by the police during an investigation does not support the allegations made.  And in such circumstances it is right and proper that the person concerned should be protected from unwarranted public scrutiny. It is not right that a person who has not been formally charged or accused of any offence should have his or her name dragged through the media when they are unable, because of the ongoing police investigation, to offer any public defence.  In this country, we generally try to avoid ‘trial by media’.

“There have been a number of occasions when accusations have been made against clergy who have either been not charged following a police investigation or who have been charged but subsequently cleared.

“If a priest under investigation is subsequently cleared of criminal charges and an internal investigation and risk assessment provides no reason why the priest should not return to work, then they are entitled to resume their duties. It is very difficult for this to happen if the priest has been branded by false accusations in the media.

Mr Drake also added that he understood some of the concerns of residents in this case, but explained:

“Police enquiries can be complex and take some time to conclude.  We recognise that the police need to take as long as it takes to investigate serious crimes.  However, we recognise that the longer an investigation takes place the more difficult it becomes both for the congregations and the priest concerned.  For this reason we offer all parties our continuing prayers.”

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