Witham: Man Questioned Over Vicarage Murder

15 February 2012, 11:01 | Updated: 16 February 2012, 06:13

Police have been given more time to question a 43-year-old man arrested on suspicion of the murder of a former Essex vicar.

The Rev John Suddards, 59, was found on Tuesday (February 14th) with multiple wounds in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset Police said.

A 43-year-old man was arrested yesterday (Wednesday February 15th) over the murder and officers were last night given extra time to question the suspect.

As the community mourned, a senior clergyman said the murder should act as a warning - that when clergy open their churches and homes to people, they become "vulnerable''.

The Ven Geoffrey Sidaway, Archdeacon of Gloucester, said: "Sadly, this event highlights the vulnerable nature of parish ministry in some of our communities today.

"Many clergy on a daily basis open their homes and their churches to people and clearly that can put them in a vulnerable situation.''

The alarm was raised by workmen who arrived at the building on Tuesday morning and realised it was locked.

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Crisp, who is leading the investigation, confirmed the body was that of Mr Suddards, adding: "He suffered multiple stab wounds, and therefore this is now a murder investigation.

"A 43-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder.''

Appealing for the help of Thornbury villagers, he said detectives were asking churchgoers to come forward to tell them what they knew about the clergyman, who visited him and who he associated with.

Mr Crisp said he was particularly keen speak to anyone who saw Mr Suddards after 12.30pm on Monday.

The news has sent shockwaves through the clergy and the close-knit community, which lies about 11 miles north of Bristol.

The St Mary's vicar had only taken up his post last July, having come from the diocese of Chelmsford.

Parishioners gathered at a Eucharist service at St Paul's church in Thornbury yesterday, and Mr Sidaway said the community was  "in shock at the tragic death of their parish priest'', describing Mr Suddards as "a person who cared deeply for people''.

A former barrister, Mr Suddards moved to the area after serving at St Nicolas Church in Witham, Essex, since 2001 and before that at Great Yeldham parish, 20 miles away.

When he took up the post at St Nicolas, the clergyman, originally from Yorkshire, spoke of how he joined the priesthood after a road accident.

Mr Sidaway said it could be "weeks or months'' before a funeral can take place, and the Bishop of Gloucester will be visiting Thornbury tomorrow evening for a short service.