Vicar attacked for 'being a Christian' after hate campaign by yobs who claimed his church 'should be a mosque'
By AMANDA PERTHEN and RHODRI PHILLIPS -
16th March 2008
A vicar was in hospital last night after being attacked in his churchyard by two youths in what is being treated as a 'faith hate' crime.
Canon Michael Ainsworth, 57, was kicked and punched in the head as one of the attackers screamed "f***ing priest".
He was left lying on the ground with deep cuts, bruising and two black eyes.
Canon Micheal Ainsworth was in hospital last night after being attacked in his church yard by youths
Wife Jan insists her husband feared publicity over the attack could lead to racial tension
The attack took place in the early evening after Canon Ainsworth politely asked three Asian youths who had gathered in the churchyard to quieten down.
Another group of youths intervened to protect him and they helped him into the rectory as the attackers fled.
The incident happened outside St George-in-the-East Church in Wapping, East London.
It has regularly had windows smashed by youths - who on one occasion shouted: "This should not be a church, this should be a mosque."
Canon Ainsworth, a father of four, was taken to hospital and discharged after treatment, but was readmitted after a relapse.
The church is situated in the heart of Tower Hamlets where the majority of the population - some 57 per cent - belong to black and ethnic minority groups.
A third are of a Bangladeshi background.
In another attack on the church, families were showered with glass when a brick was thrown through a window during a service.
Mr Allan Ramanoop, a member of the Parochial Church Council, said often parishioners were too scared to challenge the gangs.
The Asian church member, who lives nearby, said: "I've been physically threatened and verbally abused on the steps of the church.
"On one occasion, youths shouted: 'This should not be a church, this should be a mosque, you should not be here'.
"I just walked away from it - you are too frightened to challenge them. We have church windows smashed two to three times a month.
"The youths are anti-Christian. It's terrible what they have done to Canon Ainsworth.
"We've never had violence like that before. I know his face was very smashed up and bruised because I saw him just minutes after the attack when I called round to deliver some papers."
Canon Ainsworth asked three Asian youths to quiten down when he was attacked in the grounds of St George-in-the-East Church in Tower Hamlets, east London
The Reverend Alan Green, Area Dean for Tower Hamlets, said it was the latest in a series of "faith hate" crimes in the borough.
He said: "It was a nasty cowardly attack. There were several groups in the churchyard and two from one group attacked him and the other group came and helped him back to the house.
"He was kicked and punched in the head as he lay on the ground, I believe that what was shouted was 'you f***ing priestî before they attacked him.
"He's still in hospital because he lost a lot of blood following the attack.
"There are one or two incidents of faith hate every month across the borough and across all faiths.
"St George's had several problems a year ago, when the windows were regularly smashed by vandals.
"Michael is a modest, unassuming man who is quietly going about the job of building up relations between his church and the community. He's doing a very good job of it."
Yesterday, Canon Ainsworth was visited in London's St Bartholemew's Hospital by his wife Jan, herself an ordained priest and the Church of England's Chief Education Officer.
Mrs Ainsworth, also 57, said her husband feared publicity over the attack could fuel faith hate tensions in the community.
She said: "He does not want the level of fuss and attention. I think he feels it's quite difficult in the local area."
But some youth leaders and councillors in the community played down the faith hate attacks and said drink and drug problems in the area were often to blame.
Kamil Ahmed, leader at the Ensign Youth Club, based on a council estate close to the church, said: "There are a lot of 14 to 16-year-old Asians, drunk and high on cocaine, wandering round the estate.
"It might be the people responsible for this attack reacted badly to being told off rather than targeting the church in a faith hate way."
Local Respect Party councillor Abjol Miah said: "There are isolated faith-hate attacks in the ward and borough, but generally relations are good between different religions. There are always individuals who will cause trouble."
A London Diocese spokesman said: "The police are correctly treating the assault on Canon Michael Ainsworth as a faith hate crime.
"Any incident that involves an element of abusive faith-related language should be handled in this way."
St George-in-the-East is one of London's most historic churches.
It was built between 1714 and 1729 to designs by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren.
The church was severely damaged by firebombs during the war but it was rebuilt in 1960.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said last night: "A 57-year-old man was attacked in a churchyard in Tower Hamlets, at 7pm on March 5.
"He was attacked by two teenagers of Asian appearance and suffered cuts and bruises.
"It is being treated as a faith hate crime because of the language which was used.
Derogatory terms relating to Christianity were used.
"We would appeal for any witnesses to the attack to come forward."
Canon Ainsworth moved to London with his wife at the end of last year when she took up her extremely prestigious post on the Church of England's education board.
The Ainsworths previously lived in Manchester where he was team rector at St Mark's, Worsley.
He was also made an honorary canon at Manchester Cathedral in 2005.
Cambridge-educated Jan fulfilled a childhood dream when she was ordained in 2005 as a deacon. She became a priest the following year.
Tower Hamlets has a population of 227,000 and a high proportion of 20 to 34-year-olds.
Between 1996 and 2016, the borough's population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the rest of London.