Bishop who faced rioters and took on Jack the Ripper and EDL forced to quit
PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 October 2018 | UPDATED: 07:58 04 October 2018
The bishop who took over the Stepney diocese in a “baptism of fire” during the 2011 riots and went on to campaign to stop the EDL’s march and a Jack the Ripper tourinst trap has had to quit through ill health.
The Rt Rev Adrian Newman has spoken for the first time about the intense migraines he has suffered for 12 years which is forcing him to step down this month.
“The migraines are now becoming increasingly debilitating,” he tells today’s East London Advertiser. “Nothing has worked, except powerful drugs that have severe side effects.”
Details of his illness has shocked congregations in the 70 churches he is responsible for in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington with their 8,500 worshippers.
“The migraine has worn me down,” the 59-year-old leading clergyman adds. “I have less ability to cope—this is not a job you can do on 75 per cent of a full tank.”
He leaves the manse in Mile End to retire to Essex with his wife Gill, a deacon in her own right.
Adrian was just 12 when he witnessed two people bleed to death which left a profound impression on him that years later led him on his path to faith.
He was just some kid on his bike as fate made him witness to the horrors of death when a lorry transporting a heavy JCB in his home town of Rickmansworth shed its load onto a car, crushing a couple inside.
The experience drew him into the Church and eventually four decades later to the Bishop’s Manse in the summer of 2011.
But he no sooner arrived that he found himself confronted by rioters on the streets.
“It was a baptism of fire getting a call from the Rector of Hackney that the riots were happening,” he explains. “I wrapped my ‘dog’ collar around my neck and join Rob Wickham in the middle of Mare Street trying to keep peace between the police and the rioters.
“Getting involved in community politics is what being a bishop is about, to be out their engaging with things that really matter to people—that is ‘bishoping’!”
He saw his role to try and keep the peace between police and rioters.
"We stood in the middle of the rioters, rocks and petrol bombs falling about our heads"
“We stood in the middle of them,” he recalls. “We had rocks and petrol bombs falling about our heads.
“Being present in that chaos gave credibility in bringing the community back together afterwards, to reclaim the streets.”
The new bishop wasn’t afraid to jump into the lion’s den of politics, joining the picket against the East End’s now-notorious Jack the Ripper tourist trap in Cable Street. He joined pickets with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets outside the so-called ‘museum’ which had opened in 2015 after what the local authority found had been a misleading planning application.
“I got involved because the community saw it as an issue about the dignity of women,” he explains. “This was social and gender injustice that needed to be confronted.”
Adrian also used his public role to call on the Home Secretary to ban the right-wing English Defence League marching in 2011 through Whitechapel past the East London Mosque.
“That would have been hugely provocative, an affront to any sane-thinking person,” Adrian tells you. “The community was under threat by an extremist group threatening violence which had to be resisted.
“You have to put your head above the parapet if you’re going to stand up for what is right and commit to justice.”
He joined Citizens UK people’s alliance based in Whitechapel and helped organise a campaign to reclaim the streets from the ‘postcode’ gangs.
"“Of course I was worried about Gill going into a war zone when she crossed the border into Syria... but I was never able to stop her"
But his eye was also on global events with a Syrian education campaign, rolling up his sleeves to load vans with school equipment for children to continue their learning in the tragic war zone.
His wife actually went out to Syria to help the relief operation launched from London.
“Of course I was worried about Gill going into a war zone,” the father-of-three admits. “I got a text as she crossed the border into Syria which had me worried for her safety.
“But I was never able to stop what she wanted to do. We weighed up the risks and felt it was the right thing for her.”
The bishop was never far from standing up to be counted, from Middle East war to joining campaigners last year on a rainy overnight protest outside the Bethnal Green housing office demonstrating over the government’s Housing Bill that was “going to have a bad effect on the most vulnerable”.
His passion for housing got him involved with land trusts like the project by St George-in-the-East congregation in Shadwell whose priest located a disused railway yard in Cable Street now being released for new homes.
Some might question a bishop of the Church getting involved in politics.
But the retiring Bishop of Stepney insists: “The Bible is full of politics and aspirations for a better world. It’s a vision of how the world might be that motivates us.”
The sadness is that this fighting spirit of a man is being forced to quit the ring after 12 years of battling with bouts of migraine that are becoming increasingly debilitating.