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The Bishop of Southwark is mugged outside his frontdoor

The Right Reverend Thomas Frederick Butler, commonly known as Tom Butler, is the current Anglican Bishop of Southwark. Widely regarded as a liberal (he favours the decriminalisation of cannabis for one thing) and whilst not exactly a household name, he is a regular contributor to the Thought For The Day segment on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and is therefore better known than most of his fellow bishops in the Church of England. On the evening of Tuesday, 5th December 2006 he was walking home from a church event and was just yards from the front door of his home in Tooting when he suffered the misfortune of being mugged and was dispossessed of his bag and contents.

On the following day he appeared at a ceremony in All Saints Church in West Dulwich for the institution of some new priests sporting a black eye and without his customary bishop's mitre which, he explained, were due to the injuries he'd suffered as the result of the previous night's mugging. According to a spokesperson from the Diocese of Southwark, "He's got several lumps and cuts and bruises, including a nasty cut to the back of the head. He doesn't remember anything about it. he doesn't know how many people did it or who they were. He is now back at work but cannot wear his mitre because of the injury to his head." A member of his staff reported the incident to the police and also reported the loss of his cross, his personal organiser, a mobile phone and some private papers.

I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do

As it later became clear, there were are number of inaccuracies in the above account of events. For one thing the Right Reverend Tom Butler had actually spent the evening at a Christmas drinks reception being held at the Irish embassy in Belgravia, a function which would not normally fall within the accepted definition of a "church event". Having been well entertained at the embassy the Bishop apparently left round 9pm and somehow ended up in Crucifix Lane, a quiet side street not far from Southwark Cathedral. It was here that the bishop gained access to the back seat of a parked silver Mercedes A200. Having done so, he discovered that his comfort was being adversely affected by the presence of a number of cuddly toys, and so began removing said toys by throwing them out on to the road.

Although it seems that the Mercedes in question had a defective central locking mechanism, which accounted for the fact that one of the rear doors would not lock, and the ease with which the Bishop gained access, it did possess a functioning car alarm. The presence of the Bishop activated the alarm and attracted the attention of the owner of the car who was playing pool in the Suchard Bar nearby.

The owner of the vehicle, a thirty-nine year old property developer from Beckenham named Paul Sumpter, duly approached the trespassing Bishop and very naturally asked "What are you doing in my car?", to which question the Bishop replied, "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do." For some reason Mr Sumpter concluded that this explanation was inadequate and proceeded to take the necessary steps to remove the Bishop from the back seat of his car. It then appears that during the removal process the Bishop accidentally fell to the pavement and sustained a bump to the head. As Nicola Sumpter later told the Daily Mirror, "My boyfriend and his pal raced outside and were stunned to see a grey-haired man in the back seat. He was throwing my one-year-old son's toys everywhere. He wouldn't get out so they could pull him away. He couldn't stand up straight and fell over, banging his head."

The Bishop then sat on the kerb for a few minutes; an ambulance was called but later cancelled when he declined any medical attention. As the manager of the Suchard Bar, Paul Sathaporn, later described the scene "I and some passers-by asked him if wanted an ambulance but he said no. Then he got up and staggered under the railway bridge. We were laughing because he was staggering so much as he walked off." Or indeed as Paul Sumpter put it "He was absolutely steaming drunk. He looked like Father Jack."

These various revelations prompted the Diocese of Southwark to issue a revised statement, which now explained that the, "Bishop of Southwark attended a reception in Belgravia on Tuesday evening. He left the reception to travel home by public transport. When he arrived home he was without his briefcase and mobile phone and had several fresh head wounds. He reported the matter to the police and sought medical attention."

Paul Sumpter later came across the Bishop's bag complete with cross, personal organiser, papers and an umbrella (presumably buried under a pile of cuddly toys), which he handed to The Sun and duly returned to Bishop on Sunday the 10th. The Right Reverend Butler was apparently "delighted" at the return of the missing items but was otherwise unable to shed any further light on the events of the previous Tuesday evening. Although he could recall being at the Irish embassy, "It was one of those pre-Christmas receptions with drinks and nibbles, with interesting conversations and interesting people", his subsequent recollection of events was rather hazy; "I had a drink. There lies the difficulty. I am not in a position to say dogmatically anything more about it".

Bished as a Newt

Lambeth CID are investigating the incident, although they appeared to be taking a rather relaxed view of the affair; "I am sure we will get to the bottom of it at some point" was how a Scotland Yard spokesman explained matters. Mr Sumpter was however to complain that the Bishop had "caused me a lot of grief" as he described how there "were three CID men here and three forensic guys combing the car for hours, just because he has been a bit embarrassed about the fact he can't remember where he's dropped all his stuff."

Naturally the British media was able to find someone willing to provide the necessary call for the Bishop to resign being, in this case, one Alan Craig, the leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance group on Newham council, who was prepared to offer the opinion that "If it's true he was drunk then he ought to resign immediately", and further noted that the Bishop was "supposed to be a role model and being drunk in a gutter he can't be a good example." Some of the clergy in the Diocese of Southwark have come forward to call on their bishop to issue a statement of "repentance and regret", noting that the bishop has in the past taken a dim view of subordinate clergy found to be 'drunk on duty'. He is however not without his supporters as the Reverend Beverley Mason, vicar of St John the Evangelist Church in Upper Norwood also came forward to describe him as "a fantastic bishop and extremely valued" and excusing his conduct by arguing that it "has revealed the humanity of the church, which is no bad thing".

So far the Right Reverend Tom Butler has yet to admit that he was drunk that evening and is still claiming that he has no memory of what happened. He may well find himself accused of the offence of conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders and subject to the disciplinary procedures of the Church of England.


SOURCES

  • Bishop of Southwark is mugged outside his frontdoor The Evening Standard 08.12.06
    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/
  • Ben Ashford, 'Steaming drunk' bishop shame, The Sun December 09, 2006
    http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006570145,00.html
  • BISHED AS A NEWT: Drunk bishop cracks head falling out of a Merc, The Daily Mirror 9 December 2006
    http://www.mirror.co.uk
  • Christopher Morgan and Maurice Chittenden, Bishop’s ‘mugging’ is a divine comedy, The Sunday Times December 10, 2006
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2496633,00.html
  • David Smith, Drink row bishop facing calls to qui,t The Observer December 10, 2006
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1968879,00.html
  • Richard Alleyne, Curious incident in the night leaves
    Bishop of Southwark with black eye and sore head, The Daily Telegraph 11/12/2006
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/12/11/nbishop11.xml
  • Sun gives bash Bish bag back, The Sun, December 11, 2006
    http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006570292,00.html
  • Patrick Clift. Pray bishop, what were you doing in our car?, 13 December 2006
    From The Bromley Times http://www.bromleytimes.co.uk/
  • Bishop of Southwark thanks well-wishers, 10 December 2006
    http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/2489
  • Ruth Gledhill, Clergy call on their 'drunk' bishop to show penitence, The Times December 12, 2006
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2499864,00.html
  • Priest supports ‘bashed’ bishop 16th December 2006 From the Wimbledon Guardian see http://www.wimbledonguardian.co.uk

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