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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 14:58 GMT
Wife 'witnessed vicar's murder'
Father Paul Bennett
Father Bennett was stabbed on his doorstep

Police investigating the murder of a vicar in the grounds of his church have revealed his wife was with him when he was attacked.

Father Paul Bennett, 59, was killed in the grounds of St Fagan's Church in Trecynon, near Aberdare, on Wednesday. He had been stabbed several times.

Police have recovered a knife from the scene. A 23-year-old, named locally as Geraint Evans, is being questioned.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has spoken of his shock.

South Wales Police are examining a nearby flat at Maes Rhydwen, where the suspect is believed to have lived.

Scenes of crime officers have been at the block throughout the day.

Around 30 detectives, based at the incident room in Mountain Ash police station, are investigating the crime.

Speaking to BBC Wales, Chief Superintendent Jeff Farrar said: "Father Bennett was a well-respected, popular member of the community and it's a shocking and horrific event for Aberdare.

Block of flats near church
Forensic officers are searching a flat close to the church

He added: "His wife was there at the scene when he was killed."

Police were called to St Fagan's Church at about 1450 GMT on Wednesday where they found the body of the father-of-two.

The church was cordoned off and scenes of crime officers carried out a forensic search of the area throughout the night.

Parishioners have congregated at memorial services at nearby St Luke's Church in Cwmdare.

Local councillor Ann Crimmings said the church was packed with people wanting to pay their respects

"It was a very emotional service," she said. "The church was full with standing room only and obviously the parishioners were very upset.

The police were at the scene very quickly. I saw a man being taken away by two or three officers
Malcolm Perry, neighbour

"This is testament to the type of person Father Bennett was."

Speaking ahead of the service, Archbishop Morgan told BBC Radio Wales: "The loss to his family and parish is immeasurable."

He described Father Bennett, who had been a vicar for 22 years and at Trecynon for five, as "very shy" and "devout".

He said: "What was remarkable last night was that the parishioners had set up an altar in the church.

"The work of a parish priest goes on very quietly and they touch the lives of a lot of people and nobody else knows about that kind of ministry."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said news of the deaths had come as an "appalling shock".

St Fagan's Church
A forensic search is continuing at St Fagan's Church

"I know something of his devoted and selfless ministry in testing conditions, and I can well understand the depth of grief felt by local people, both church members and others in the community," he said.

"Father Paul's family will be especially in our prayers here at Lambeth (Palace) as they come to terms with this terrible tragedy."

Neighbours have spoken of the scene as police arrived at the church.

Malcolm Perry, who lives in Windsor Street, next to St Fagan's Church, said: "There were lots of police everywhere, rushing into the vicarage followed by the ambulance.

"The police were at the scene very quickly. I saw a man being taken away by two or three officers."

Referring to the arrested man, Peter Quick said: "I didn't know him. It was just him that lived in the flat.

"I've seen him about. He had been living there for about 12 months and he didn't work."

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

Father Paul Bennett during a church service


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