Drunken priest suspended after trying to bite paramedic

Reverend Gareth Jones Image copyright St Marys Ilford
Image caption Gareth Jones, an Anglican priest, consumed about 53 units of alcohol, the court was told

A priest has been suspended after he admitted assaulting a police officer and a paramedic on a drunken night out.

The Reverend Gareth Jones swore at officers and claimed he had diplomatic immunity from the Vatican when he was arrested two weeks ago.

A paramedic found him passed out on a street in central London.

Jones, who later said he was "deeply ashamed" about what happened, had drunk three bottles of wine, several pints of beer, gin and tonics and vodka.

Highbury Corner magistrates heard the Anglican priest kicked a paramedic twice in the leg before punching him and trying to bite him, on Charing Cross Road, in Covent Garden.

'Wake-up call'

As police intervened, the priest from St Mary's Church in Ilford, east London, kicked an officer in the face, the court was told.

When asked which embassy would grant him diplomatic immunity, the priest said "the Vatican" and swore at officers.

Jones, who has previous convictions for a bomb hoax, affray, possession of cannabis, fraud, and criminal damage, now faces formal church disciplinary proceedings.

His lawyer, Dominic Hockley, told the court that Jones had consumed about 53 units of alcohol before the incident and was seeking help to deal with alcoholism.

"To say that this incident has been a wake-up call would be an understatement," he said.

In an email to the BBC after the court hearing, Jones admitted that he was an alcoholic, which he said he was now "determined" to deal with.

"I'm deeply ashamed of actions and the harm I have caused," he said. "When I was 20 I turned my life around and began a journey seeking to help people in difficulty through the ministry of the church.

"It's hard to admit you are weak and vulnerable when you are a priest, and I've hidden that away for too long."

'Deeply shocked'

District Judge Robin McPhee ordered Jones, who admitted two assaults, to pay £700 in fines, £200 in compensation each to the policeman and the paramedic, as well as £85 prosecution costs and a £35 victim surcharge.

A tweet from Jones's account, posted on Thursday evening but subsequently deleted said: "The fire is lit."

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."