Police examining reports of bishop threatened online over Cummings comments

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Police are looking into reports a bishop was threatened online after speaking out on Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’s alleged breach of lockdown rules.

Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Ripon, reported the matter to North Yorkshire Police as some of the Church of England’s most senior figures reported receiving hate mail and death threats.

Bishop Hartley posted: “‘Stay out of politics or it will be the death of you’ was one of the emails I received today. Thank you to those who have sent supportive messages.”

She had earlier written about missing her father’s birthday during the lockdown as he recovered from radiotherapy.

Bishop Hartley said she was “following up” the hate email with police.

On Tuesday, North Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “A complaint has been made to North Yorkshire Police and inquiries are ongoing into the matter.”

Bishop of Worcester John Inge tweeted that he received an email, warning “stay out of politics or we’ll kill you” after he criticised Boris Johnson’s “risible defence” of Mr Cummings on Sunday night.

Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle, wrote: “I too received such an email. I feel concern for the person who sent it and will hold him or her in prayer.”

The previous night she had posted that she was “deeply troubled” by the Prime Minister’s defence of his adviser.

“We can forgive mistakes and poor judgement and can understand and admire loyalty but forgiveness and understanding need openness and we did not see this tonight,” she wrote.

Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, added that he had also received abuse, writing: “Public life in Britain today. Many of us have received this sort of message. It doesn’t work.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “A number of bishops have sadly received abusive and threatening messages in the last 24 hours, including a small number which needed to be reported to police.

“We know bishops are sadly not alone in experiencing this kind of intimidating behaviour, which is unacceptable wherever it comes from, and we will pray for those who behave this way.

“We urgently need a more generous and gracious public conversation in this country.”

The bishops were among a number of Church of England representatives who had condemned the PM for standing by his adviser over a trip from London to County Durham during the national lockdown.

Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, tweeted: “There will be those in Durham who defend #Boris for his standing by #DominicCummngs.

“But most who have worked so hard to abide by the rules and guidance of the past weeks will feel hurt, angry, & let down. Trust has been broken. For the nation’s sake rebuild it quickly.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has not commented publicly on Mr Cummings’ case, but recently warned the Government that cuts to public spending after the coronavirus outbreak would be “catastrophic”.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Welby had said “going for austerity again would be the most terrible mistake”.

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