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Church court raps vicar for lights

Rev Sue Leathley ANL-150831-004012009
Rev Sue Leathley ANL-150831-004012009

A Mildenhall vicar has been criticised for what was described as ‘unauthorised amateurish and unsightly’ work on the town’s Grade I-listed St Mary’s church.

The Rev Sue Leathley fell foul of a judgement by David Etherington, Chancellor of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and a judge at the Church of England’s Consistory Court after she allowed lighting to be installed at the mediaeval church without the court’s authority.

Mildenhall St Mary's Church.''Picture Mark Westley ANL-160206-011949009
Mildenhall St Mary's Church.''Picture Mark Westley ANL-160206-011949009

The matter was raised by the Archdeacon of Sudbury, the Venerable David Jenkins, who had asked the chancellor to consider making a ‘restoration order’ to have the church put back to how it was before the work.

In his 5,000 word judgment the chancellor said drilling into the church’s stonework to install the lighting last November had been ‘unnecessary and damaging’ and that the siting of the lights was unattractive.

He said the Rev Leathley admitted she had ‘decided to take a risk’ in allowing the work to go ahead without the court’s permission, thinking the granting of permission was ‘simply a formality’.

She had given the go-ahead at a time when the electrician who did it was carrying out work in connection with church heating and she had considered it was ‘a wonderful opportunity’ to have the lighting installed.

Though calling her actions ‘a flagrant disregard of the faculty jurisdiction’, Chancellor Etherington accepted the Rev Leathley had made a genuine apology and he accepted that new lighting was necessary.

He has now put the matter on hold to give the vicar, church wardens and the parochial church council an opportunity to seek proper consent for something more appropriate.

The Rev Leathley said she understood parishes could not simply behave towards church buildings as they liked. She said she loved the church and now realised what she did was not right.

The lighting, however, was not the only unauthorised work discovered at the church. Before the Rev Leathley arrived in 2008, loud speakers had been screwed to a timber frame which formed part of what Chancellor Etherington said had been described by some as the finest mediaeval roof in East Anglia.

Retrospective permission had been sought and Chancellor Etherington granted consent for an audio system on condition that the current speakers were removed and replaced with new ones.

“One thing needs to be clear beyond any doubt whatsoever. This is never to happen again, either in this church or anywhere else,” he said.

The parochial church council was ordered to pay the repair and court costs bill.