Ilford priest in drunken brawl with police seeking help for alcoholism

Fr Gareth Jones says he is glad his dark secret is out

Fr Gareth Jones says he is glad his dark secret is out - Credit: Archant

Ashamed and remorseful parish priest Fr Gareth Jones told the Recorder of his relief that his dark secret was out after he was fined for a drunken, foul mouthed brawl with police.

Fr Jones, who is vicar of St Mary the Virgin, High Road, Ilford, revealed he remembered nothing of the attack on May 20 in which he kicked out and verbally abused police officers trying to restrain him and attacked a paramedic.

In an exclusive interview Fr Jones said he had gone out for lunch with a friend in Fleet Street, central London before drinking at several pubs and ending up at a late bar in Denmark Street.

Fr Jones, 36, who is married with a daughter, had passed out after the all-day binge, said to have included wine, beer and spirits, and when woken up by paramedic Ian Pollock swore at him and threatened to attack him.

When police officers joined the struggle Fr Jones kicked Pc Andrew Fletcher in the cheek before claiming: “I have diplomatic immunity.” When asked which embassy he replied “The Vatican” and swore at him.

Fr Jones, who was appointed priest at St Mary’s in 2010, revealed he had sought help from Redbridge alcohol service and the incident had brought his problem to the fore.

“This is the end of a struggle I have had for a couple of years, but more exacerbated since Christmas, when I realised I had a drink problem.

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“On this occasion it went out of control.”

He said he had been suspended after he had reported the incident to his bishop and faced disciplinary action and could be judged by an ecclesiastical court.

He also revealed he suffered from depression and had a brain haemorrhage last year which caused seizures and had “knocked him off kilter”.

Fr Jones, who was born and brought up in a mining village near Barnsley, Yorkshire, said he had got into “bits and bats of trouble” in his teens before turning his life around.

“I felt an inward call – although I didn’t know what it was at the time,” he said. He was ordained in 2006 and came to Ilford after a stint as a curate in Brighton.

Asked what he thought his parishioners would think of his behaviour he said it was “an unknown” but added: “I have tried to foster that we are a family unit and I trust them implicitly.”

Fr Jones, who has been suspended, said the Bishop of Barking had been very supportive and had sent a testimonial to the court: “I am obviously deeply ashamed and remorseful, not least because of the pressure it puts on those around me.”

Highbury magistrates sentenced Fr Jones to fines of £700, with £200 to Pc Andrew Fletcher, £200 to Mr Pollock, along with £85 prosecution costs and a £35 victim surcharge. He admitted two counts of assault by beating.