Youth arrested after faith-hate attack on clergyman

PUBLISHED: 10:56 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:08 05 October 2010

Cannon Michael Ainsworth who has been assaulted by an Asian gung of youths at his church yard at the Highway in East London 18/03/08

Cannon Michael Ainsworth who has been assaulted by an Asian gung of youths at his church yard at the Highway in East London 18/03/08

Carmen Valino

POLICE have arrested a youth in connection with a vicious beating of an Anglican priest in his East London churchyard and believe they are closing the net on more teenage thugs involved in the attack. Canon Michael Ainsworth was beaten up by three Asians in ther gbrounds of St George-in-the-East parish church in Shadwell after asking them to be quiet.

EXCLUSIVE by Victoria Huntley and Ted Jeory

POLICE have arrested a youth in connection with a vicious beating of an Anglican priest in his East End churchyard.

They believe they are closing the net on more teenagers involved in the incident with Canon Michael Ainsworth, who was beaten by three Asian youths in the grounds of St George-in-the East parish church in Shadwell after he'd asked them to be quiet.

Three teenagers punched and kicked the father-of-four, who was wearing his cleric's collar when he came out of the rectory and into a passageway in the churchyard.

Police are investigating the attack as a faith hate crime.

But Canon Ainsworth, speaking publicly for the first time about the terrifying ordeal that left him battered and bruised, this week appealed exclusively through the Advertiser for calm.

"We must respond calmly, and not jump to conclusions... for the sake of everyone who lives in Tower Hamlets," he says.

"Groups of white youths commit similar crimes against churches."

He adds that only when those responsible for the attack are put on trial "will we know whether they are Muslims in any real sense."

Coping with the hysteria from "wild" national press coverage had been "almost worse than being attacked," he felt.

The 57-year-churchman, who moved to East London from Manchester nine months ago, now wants to set the record straight through the Advertiser.

He was attacked at 7pm on March 5 when he asked a group of Asian youths in a passageway by the church to keep quiet.

They pushed him against a wall and kicked and punched him for about seven minutes.

But the sturdy 6ft clergyman remained on his feet.

"They swore repeatedly, he said, and one shouted "f***ing priest," he recalled.

He was later treated at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and was able to return to work, explaining away his black eyes at funerals and even one function at St Paul's Cathedral.

But he had to return to hospital with complications from nosebleeds and was kept in St Bartholemew's in the City, discharged only on Monday.

But he felt helpless as his church was besieged by cameramen and reporters after the story broke last Friday.

"They have their own agendas," said Mr Ainsworth, "as do the bloggers, both professional and amateur, who are using the story for their own ends and drawing bizarre, mainly racist, conclusions,"

As a show of unity, leaders from the East London Mosque in Whitechapel are to attend his East Sunday service at St George's this weekend

Meanwhile, Det Ins Howard Way believes Mr Ainsworth would have been attacked even if he had not been wearing his priest's vestments.

"This is an isolated incident involving youths," said the detective.

"It is not typical of the area around St George's or Tower Hamlets generally.

"The thing to remember in race, faith and other hate crime is that it's not all one-sided.

"There are Asian victims and suspects and we have white victims and suspects.

"It's all proportional to the racial and religious make up of the East End."

The Tower Hamlets Interfaith forum's chairman, The Rev Alan Green, Dean for Tower Hamlets, said in a statement to the Advertiser that the forum is developing strategies to ensure people are safe in public areas and churchyards.

"The Diocese of London takes any assault against members of the clergy very seriously," he says. "We have had excellent support from the police on this matter."

Tower Hamlets council said it believes the overwhelming majority of residents, whether they have a religious faith or not, are "committed to a society based on respect and dignity." The authority is striving to "address the social problems which arise."

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