A parish priest has been suspended after being convicted over a drunken brawl with a police officer and a paramedic.
Gareth Jones, 36, a parish priest at St Mary's Church Ilford, was said to have consumed 53 units of alcohol – almost four times a man's weekly recommended alcohol intake and including three bottles of wine, several beers, gins, and vodkas – when paramedic Ian Pollock discovered him collapsed on Charing Cross Road in central London.
Jones, who was wearing his full clerical clothing, told Pollock he was going to "fuck [him] up" when the paramedic tried to shake him awake, Highbury magistrates' court heard on Friday.
When Pollock mounted the threatening priest for fear of his safety, he was joined by two nearby police officers who crossed the street to see what was going on.
But undeterred, Jones became more violent.
"Mr Jones is still attacking the paramedic, he punches him in the chest then tried to bite his arms and is spitting on him," prosecutor Edward Aydin told the court.
"As the officers tried to hold Jones' legs during the struggle, he kicked PC Andrew Fletcher in the left cheek before claiming he was from the Vatican embassy in a cunning attempt to avoid arrest."
Jones told officers that he had "diplomatic immunity" meaning he couldn't be arrested.
"The officer says, ‘Which embassy?’ and he says, ‘The Vatican, you’re fucked,’" Aydin continued.
The Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, whereas Jones is affiliated with the Church of England.
"There's no relationship between those two religions," Aydin said.
As Jones growled and continued to shout "diplomatic immunity" PC Fletcher strapped the priest's legs together before putting him in the police van and taking him to Belgravia police station.
After pleading guilty to two counts of assault by beating, Jones was ordered by district judge Robin McPhee to pay £700 in fines, including £200 compensation to Fletcher, £200 compensation to Pollock, plus £85 prosecution costs and a £35 victim surcharge.
"I am utterly ashamed and sorry for any harm that I have caused," Jones said.
The priest will now face an ecclesiastical court, which will decide whether or not to impose a lifetime ban on him serving the church, which would lead to the end of his career and loss of the family home he shares with his wife and child.
"This will have huge implications on his career, family life, and his home," Jones' defence lawyer, Dominic Hockley, said.
A spokesperson for the diocese of Chelmsford confirmed that Jones had been suspended as soon as they heard of the incident.
"Now that the case has been concluded we have started proceedings under the terms of the Clergy Discipline Measure," the spokesperson told the BBC. "We are holding all those affected by this serious incident in our prayers."
Jones has faced previous convictions for a false bomb hoax, affray, possession of cannabis, fraud, criminal damage, and driving matters, but said in an email to the BBC that he had "turned his life around" after he "began a journey seeking to help people in difficulty through the ministry of the church".
Since 2006, Jones has worked with a group called Street Pastors in Brighton and Hove, which assists police and paramedics in looking after people who are homeless, drunk, or on drugs.
But in recent years, Jones is said to have experienced increasing issues with alcohol.
"You have known for two years that you had a significant problem with alcohol which you told me," McPhee said. "Nonetheless you decided to go out and drink to the extent that you are found asleep in a doorway."
The judge did, however, acknowledge Jones' remorse and previous efforts in turning his life around.
Hockley said: "The drinking had moved on from social drinking with his wife to something far more devastating.
"To say that this incident has been a wake-up call would be an understatement."
Jones is working with AA and Redbridge Alcohol Services to tackle his alcoholism.
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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