Page last updated at 02:13 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Vicar sues church over bullying claims

Rev Mark Sharpe
The Reverend Mark Sharpe took the MoD to employment tribunal and won

A vicar from Worcester is taking his diocese to an employment tribunal over claims he was forced out of his "toxic parish".

The Reverend Mark Sharpe said he was retiring on health grounds after being bullied by parishioners who poisoned his dog and slashed his car tyres.

The union Unite said there was a 40-year-history of clergy leaving abruptly or in poor health.

The Diocese of Worcester said it denied any claims his family had been bullied.

Mr Sharpe, a former naval chaplain, won an employment tribunal against the Ministry of Defence for a sexual harassment case in 2006.

He was given an undisclosed pay out for claims he was subjected to pornography on board HMS Albion in 2004 and left his post after two weeks.

'Climate of fear'

He then took up up the role of the vicar of Teme Valley South ministry in 2005, from which he resigned in September 2009.

He said: "My family and I have been living in a climate of fear in a supposedly rural idyll.

"There have been too many incidences of harassment over the last four years for them to be the odd coincidence."

"My career has been ruined, my health and that of my wife and children has been shattered and my family has suffered terribly from all the strain," he added.

He moved his family out of the rectory in Hanley, Broadheath, Worcester, earlier to an undisclosed address in the UK.

Unite said when the diocese appointed him it knew he was moving to a "toxic parish" and had failed to exercise a duty of care towards him.

Mr Sharpe said when he took on the role only one out of the four parishes he was responsible for was registered as a legal entity.

'Wholly inappropriate'

He said this had caused huge administrative and financial problems he had had to deal with, which had provoked resentment from the community.

Mr Sharpe previously sought compensation from the diocese in 2008 over claims his vicarage was infested by mice and frogs and had dangerous heating and electrical systems. The Diocese disputed the claims at the time.

A spokesman for the diocese said the Bishop of Worcester was "disappointed and surprised" the most recent matter had been aired in the media before the tribunal hearing in May, 2010.

The diocese said the hearing had been postponed at Mr Sharpe's request because of his poor health.

The church said it also took his health into account when extending his licence three times to allow him to remain in the rectory until he had found alternative accommodation.

The diocese said it would be "wholly inappropriate to comment" upon the present case before the hearing.

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