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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 05:34 GMT
Man questioned over vicar's death
Father Paul Bennett
Father Paul Bennett was 'a man of great faith and great devotion'
A man is being questioned after a vicar was found stabbed to death in the grounds of his south Wales church.

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

The father-of-two and grandfather was found dead by his wife Georgina at about 1450 GMT on Wednesday.

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 and scenes of crime officers working throughout the night.

Officers said the vicar's family were "extremely distraught" and were with family liaison officers.

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

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 Father 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 added: "Any murder is terrible, but the murder of a priest is almost unthinkable because a priest stands for peaceable things."

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.

Tributes

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

They were joined by Archbishop Morgan, who told how he personally instituted Father 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.

"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 "a high-profile police presence" in the area over the next few days aimed to provide reassurance and support to the community as well as help the inquiry team.

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.


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Father Paul Bennett during a church service





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