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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 16:18 GMT
Community grief at murdered vicar
Father Paul Bennett
Father Bennett was stabbed on his doorstep

A south Wales valleys community is trying to come to terms with the murder of the local vicar who was stabbed to death in the grounds of his church.

Father Paul Bennett, 59, was repeatedly stabbed at St Fagan's Church in Trecynon, near Aberdare, on Wednesday.

Police have been granted a further 12 hours to question a man arrested over the murder, named locally as Geraint Evans, 23.

Tributes to Father Bennett have been paid at a special church service.

South Wales Police are continuing to examine a flat close to Father Bennett's church, where the suspect is believed to live.

I can well understand the depth of grief felt by local people, both church members and others in the community
Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan

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

Around 30 detectives, based at the incident room in Mountain Ash police station, are working on the murder inquiry.

Referring to the arrested man, neighbour 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."

Forensics teams at St Fagan's Church
Forensics teams have continued to search St Fagan's Church

Chief Superintendent Jeff Farrar told BBC Wales that Father Bennett's wife witnessed his murder.

He said: "Father Bennett was a well-respected, popular member of the community and it's a shocking and horrific event for Aberdare.

"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. 'Emotional service'

Parishioners gathered at the church hall shortly after news of the murder became known, said prayers and lit candles.

Flowers and tributes were left at the church and on Thursday morning, more than 130 parishioners packed nearby St Luke's Church in Cwmdare for a memorial service for Father Bennett.

Local councillor Ann Crimmings said: "It was a very emotional service.

"The church was full with standing room only and obviously the parishioners were very upset.

Archbishop Barry Morgan
Archbishop Barry Morgan paid tribute to Father Bennett

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

The Archbishop of Wales, Barry 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."

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

He added: "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.

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

Neighbours spoke of the scene as police arrived at the church following the murder.

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."

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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