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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK


Gummer urges church to think again

Dr Neary (left): Denies the accusations against him

The former Tory cabinet minister, John Gummer, has urged the Dean of Westminster Abbey to act in a "Christian" manner and reinstate the sacked organist whose appeal has been postponed.

The hearing into the dismissal of Dr Martin Neary, who was also the abbey's choirmaster, was delayed at the last minute on Wednesday.

It will now begin on Friday and is expected to last several days.

The Lord Chancellor's Department said the delay was due to "problems associated with organising the large volume of documentary evidence".

Controversial case

[ image: Sir Edward: Friend of the family]
Sir Edward: Friend of the family
The case has caused controversy since the Dean, the Very Reverend Wesley Carr, sacked Dr Neary and his wife Penelope in May for alleged financial misdemeanours amounting to gross misconduct.

Dr Neary's dismissal came only months after he had been honoured by the Queen for organising the music at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

A string of establishment figures including the former Tory Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, have lined up to act as character witnesses to support to his appeal.

'A Christian outcome'

Following the postponement of the hearing, Mr Gummer, a friend of Mr Neary, urged Reverend Carr to think again and see if he could "live with" the sacked organist.

"That would be a very Christian outcome," he said.

"As Martin Neary has done nothing which he should be ashamed of in any way, I'm confident of his being reinstated."

He went on to describe Dr Carr as someone who had "a long history of not being able to get on with people with whom he works".

Ancient tradition

As the abbey has the ancient status of a "royal peculiar" - a church outside the jurisdiction of a bishop - Dr Neary has had to appeal to its ultimate authority, the Queen.

However, because the royal family gave up hearing such appeals in person many years ago the Queen handed the job to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Derry Irvine, who in turn has passed the case to a retired Scottish law lord, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle.

The case centres on the administration of the Abbey's music department by Dr Neary and his wife and a number of foreign concerts performed by the choir.

Dr Carr, dismissed the couple following allegations that they had wrongly channelled booking fees to a private company they had set up.

The Nearys deny the allegations and say the company was set up for tax reasons.

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