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Priest quits after police investigation

PUBLISHED: 10:15 07 January 2011

A HIGH-profile priest in Beccles has withdrawn from all active ministry work following an allegation, which is being investigated by police.

Dom Antony Sutch, 60, a Benedictine monk and broadcaster, who was parish priest at St Benet’s Church in the town, has returned to Downside Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery, near Bath.

Fr Sutch is a former headmaster of Downside School, an independent Catholic co-educational boarding and day school for pupils aged 11 to 18, and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

He came to Beccles after leaving Downside School and became well-known in the community, serving on Beccles Town Council since 2007.

In a statement this week, Fr Aidan Bellenger, Abbot of Downside, and Canon Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, said: “Dom Antony Sutch, a monk of Downside Abbey, has voluntarily withdrawn from all active ministry after an historical safeguarding allegation.”

The statement did not elaborate on the nature of the “safeguarding allegation”, but added: “This is a neutral act that makes no judgment of guilt or innocence.

“The parish of Beccles will continue under the care of the Abbot of Downside.

“As you will understand, no other comment can be made at present while any investigation continues.”

The church’s safeguarding procedures require that any cleric against whom an allegation is made is withdrawn from active ministry work while the police investigate.

This week, an Avon and Somerset police spokesman said: “We can confirm we are aware of this claim of an historical safeguarding allegation and the matter is subject to an investigation. It would not be right to comment further at this time.”

Local people described Fr Sutch as a “larger-than-life” character, and said he would be missed.

Claire Boyne, Beccles Town Council clerk, said Fr Sutch had written to explain he was resigning from his post as a town councillor and returning to Downside Abbey.

She said: “He was a larger-than-life character who always brought some humour to the meetings, but he was also helpful to everybody.

“He used to really care what was happening to people. It is a big loss to the council. We were really disappointed to hear he was resigning.

“We sent a letter saying we were disappointed he had gone and he replied saying that, if ever he gets the opportunity, he would like to stand again in Beccles.

“The council did write to him to thank him for what he had done and saying he will be missed.”

Graham Elliott, district councillor for Beccles North, said Fr Sutch was heavily involved in the project to reopen Beccles Lido and was “much missed around the town”.

“His presence and humour are very hard to replace,” he said. “He also had an independent mind and refused to toe any party line. He was dedicated to his faith, but was not afraid to bring humour to his faith and himself.”

It is not the first time that Fr Sutch has hit the headlines.

In 2002, he attacked the “geek culture” which he claimed was overwhelming schools and teachers due to government-imposed bureaucracy; and in 2007 he was at the Waveney Greenpeace festival to hear eco-confessions in what was thought to be the first dedicated confessional booth of its kind.

Fr Sutch was unavailable for comment this week.

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