A Church of England vicar has been suspended after being fined for a drunken brawl with police during which he swore at an officer and claimed to have diplomatic immunity through the Vatican. Gareth Jones punched, kicked, bit and spat at a police officer and a paramedic who found him “passed out” in his clerical frock on Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden, central London. The 36-year-old, who serves as parish priest and vicar at St Mary the Virgin church in Great Ilford, north-east London, attacked them after drinking three bottles of wine, several pints of beer, a number of gin and tonics and vodka, in all about 53 units of alcohol. At one point he shouted “I have diplomatic immunity”. When asked from which embassy, replied: “The Vatican, you’re f*cked.”
At Highbury magistrates court, on Friday, Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of assault by beating. Robin McPhee, a district judge, ordered him to pay £700 in fines, as well as £200 each in compensation to the police officer and paramedic, plus £85 prosecution costs and a £35 victim surcharge.
Ian Pollock, the paramedic, had checked on the pastor at 2.30am and got the response: “I am going to f*ck you up.” The inebriated Jones was unable to stand but lashed out at the emergency worker, kicking him twice in the leg.
“Two police officers on the other side of the road see what’s going on,” said the prosecutor, Edward Aydin. “Mr Pollock, fearing an attack, positioned himself on top of Mr Jones to protect himself. Mr Jones is still attacking the paramedic, he punches him in the chest then [tries] to bite his arms and is spitting on him.”
As the officers tried to hold Jones’s legs he kicked PC Andrew Fletcher in the left cheek before claiming he had immunity through the Vatican, despite being a representative of the Church of England. Fletcher had to put a leg strap around Jones’s ankles. Jones was then put in a police van and taken to Belgravia police station.
The vicar told officers he had been drinking at El Vino and The George, on Fleet Street, before heading to a nightclub in Soho, adding: “I am utterly ashamed and sorry for any harm that I have caused.”
The court heard that before being ordained Jones had had a “misspent youth” with previous convictions for communicating a false bomb hoax, affray, possession of cannabis, fraud, criminal damage and driving offences, all before he was 21.
Dominic Hockley, defending, said: “He is deeply ashamed, he is entirely remorseful, it is a far cry from a man who in 2006 having been ordained as a pastor set up in Brighton and Hove the ‘Street Pastors’ who go … with the police and with paramedics looking after homeless drunks and those on drugs.”
He added that Jones was seeking help for alcoholism. As a consequence of his conviction he would have to face an ecclesiastical court that could impose a lifetime ban on his serving the church. “This will have huge implications on his career, family life and his home,” said Hockley.
McPhee told Jones: “You have known for two years that you had a significant problem with alcohol, which you told me. Nonetheless you decided to go out and drink to the extent that you [were] found asleep in a doorway. Both [the paramedic and officer were] working in the public sector, providing a service to the public, and in these circumstances not only were they providing a public service but they were specifically coming to assist you.”
A spokesman for the diocese of Chelmsford said: "We are deeply shocked by Mr Jones' behaviour.
We suspended him from his duties as soon as we were notified of the incident.
Now that the case has been concluded we have started proceedings under the terms of the Clergy Discipline Measure.
We are holding all those affected by this serious incident in our prayers."