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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 22:21 GMT
Vicar stabbed to death at church
Father Paul Bennett
Father Paul Bennett was 'a man of great faith and great devotion'
A vicar has been found by his wife stabbed to death in the grounds of his church in a south Wales village.

Father Paul Bennett, 59, died at St Fagans Church in Trecynon, near Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Father Bennett, a father-of-two and grandfather, was found by his wife Georgina at about 1450 GMT.

A 23-year-old local man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and is being questioned. Police said they were not looking for anyone else.

The church grounds in Windsor Street in the middle of the village were sealed off with police standing guard at the gates.

Officers said his family were "extremely distraught" and were with family liaison officers offering support.

Any murder is terrible, but the murder of a priest is almost unthinkable because a priest stands for peaceable things
Assistant bishop David Yeoman

Police said scenes of crime officers would work there throughout the night.

The Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan described the murder as a "horrendous incident".

He had been on retreat near Brecon, but travelled to comfort Father Bennett's family after hearing the news.

He said Father Bennett was "hard-working, dedicated and much-loved by parishioners and members of the community."

He added: "Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife Georgina, children Emma and Nigel and grandson John."

Assistant bishop the Rt Reverend Dr David Yeoman of Llandaff, who worked with Rev Bennett for 30 years, called him "an extremely hard-working, diligent priest".

"His religious views were held sincerely and firmly held. He was not an extreme man, but he was a very peaceable man, a man of great faith and had great devotion to the church and the people in the community."

Police cars and officers near the church in Trecynon
Police cars and officers near the church in Trecynon

Dr Yeoman said Father Bennett was actively involved in the community and worked closely with a local school, St John the Baptist in Aberdare.

"Any murder is terrible, but the murder of a priest is almost unthinkable because a priest stands for peaceable things," he said.

Church in Wales spokesman Christopher Smith said: "He was a devoted family man, an excellent parish priest and much loved.

"Everyone will be shocked. He has been here since 2002, and was very much loved. Mr Smith said he was a colleague and friend and had known him throughout his ministry.

"Everyone who knew him loved him," he said.

Makeshift chapel

Dozens of parishioners held a candlelit vigil in a "makeshift chapel" at the church hall, many laying floral tributes outside.

They were joined by Archbishop Morgan, who told how he personally instituted Rev Bennett into the parish five years ago.

Emerging from the vigil, parishioner Lynwen Nicholas said: "Everybody there seems to be in shock. People are lighting candles and saying prayers. Everyone is upset."

Father Paul Bennett
Everyone who knew him loved him
Tribute to Paul Bennett by Christopher Smith, Church in Wales

Det Sup Paul Kemp, who is leading the investigation, appealed to anyone in the area of the vicarage between 1400 and 1500 GMT on Wednesday to contact police.

An incident room has been set up at Mountain Ash and anyone with any information is urged to get in touch.

Divisional commander Chief Supt Jeff Farrar said police did not believe there was a risk to other people in the community, and there were many officers on the streets.

"This is a very quiet area with very little crime - it's an isolated incident and appears a strange set of circumstances," said Chief Supt Farrar.

"This is a horrific incident that will undoubtedly shock and alarm the people of Aberdare.

"I would like to reassure the community that we have arrested a man and are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident at this stage."

He said there would be "a high-profile police presence in the area over the next few days both to provide reassurance and support to the community of Aberdare and to assist the inquiry team by speaking to members of the public who may have information".

He added: "Our thoughts are with the family of Father Bennett at this time and I urge anyone with information to come forward."

Anyone with information can contact the incident room at Mountain Ash police station on 01443 743678 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

The church where Father Paul Bennett was found

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