Dorset

Andrew Hawthorne suspended in church finances inquiry

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Media captionThe congregation plan to demonstrate against Mr Hawthorne's suspension from St George's Church

A priest has been suspended from his church in Dorset over financial discrepancy claims.

Andrew Hawthorne, who denies any wrongdoing, is no longer allowed to minister at St George's, Jumpers Road, Christchurch.

Members of the congregation plan to demonstrate against his suspension in Saxon Square, Christchurch, on Friday.

Diocesan spokeswoman Emma Nutbrown said the issues were the subject of legal proceedings and an internal inquiry.

Mr Hawthorne, who said he was unable to comment on the proceedings for legal reasons, was formally suspended four weeks ago.

'Son hurt'

His wife Ceri Edwards-Hawthorne said: "It [the Church] has been one of my rocks, suddenly all the things I believed in are not what I thought."

Mrs Edwards-Hawthorne is now attending a Roman Catholic church to worship.

"My daughter found it very difficult, she was saying 'don't let them drive you out, this is your church'."

Mrs Edwards-Hawthorne said that when her six year-old son had taken part in a drama production she had organised at the church last month his father had not been allowed to watch.

"It's hurt my son, it's hurt my husband."

Mr Hawthorne will also be barred from seeing the couple's daughter play the violin at harvest festival.

"I've been a church-goer all my life but they're just not bothered, it's a one-way relationship," she added.

'Loved and respected'

Jill Barr, a member of the church, said the congregation was being "kept in the dark" about why Mr Hawthorne had been suspended.

Mrs Barr also said the congregation had not been given the opportunity to make representations on behalf of Mr Hawthorne, who she referred to as "our loved and respected priest".

Image caption The congregation plan to demonstrate against Mr Hawthorne's suspension from St George's Church

She said: "From our point of view he has done nothing but good for the church.

"Under him, the church and in particular the Sunday school, was thriving.

"We believe him to be a man of integrity and find it hard to believe that he has done anything to warrant suspension."

Mrs Nutbrown, spokeswoman for the dioceses of Guildford and Winchester, said: "We understand that during such processes people close to those involved may wish to receive more communication than is possible.

"When it is appropriate to provide more details to parishioners this will happen."

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