Real life 'Vicar of Dibley' steps down after arsonist's hate campaign


Last updated at 07:28 07 December 2007

The woman vicar targeted by a vicious hate campaign stepped down from her post last night.

The Rev Yvonne Hobson is taking a temporary leave of absence to relieve 'the considerable pressure' on her and her family.

Mrs Hobson's decision came after she was subjected to a second arson attack within weeks.

In the latest incident on Wednesday, someone forced open the window of her car and threw in a burning candle after choir practice at Paul Church in Cornwall.

It is thought only the wet weather prevented the silver Mercedes from catching fire.

The incident mirrored a previous attack - also after choir practice - in which a burning candle was left in a basket of logs on the porch of her £350,000 home in Newlyn.

The campaign against Mrs Hobson started in June when she began to receive a string of letters expressing hatred for women priests.

A spokesman for the Bishop of Truro, Bill Ind, said: 'Mrs Hobson has been given a leave of absence to relieve the considerable pressure she and her family are under.

'She will take a rest from the duties of taking services and such like for the time being. The bishop thinks this the most prudent course of action for the time being, and Mrs Hobson and her family are happy with that decision.' He described Mrs Hobson, 54, as 'very shaken', but added: 'She also feels very much supported by the parish, the diocese and the police.

'She told me, "As far as I am concerned I am in the best parish in the country".' John George, the choirmaster at Paul Church, said: 'Everyone is at loss as to who it could be that is doing this.

'There we were, all in choir practice with Yvonne while somebody was breaking into her car right outside and trying to set fire to it, as they did to her home.

'Who on earth could be so vindictive? She is absolutely superb - the most lovely, caring and compassionate person you could come across.' He added: 'The whole horrid situation is putting a blight on Christmas for everyone. We want the person caught so the reverend can get on with her life and her ministry.' Congregation member Margaret Byrne said: 'The situation is terrible and sinister. The community are very concerned.' Mrs Hobson, who has been curate at Paul Church since July last year, was first targeted in June.

At one point a 'particularly frightening' letter was found in her vestry, prompting Bishop Ind to publicly appeal for help.

Just four weeks later, the burning logs were found outside Mrs Hobson's home.

Paul Church, which was built in the 15th century, has a congregation of around 100 and is situated in the village of Paul, with a population of just 234.

A congregation member said: 'What started as odd has moved on to being genuinely very frightening and morbid.

The community are very unnerved by the prospect of someone stalking around after dark setting fire to things.

'It's sick and very unChristian - I can't imagine who would do this and think they won't be caught eventually.' Police said the letters sent to Mrs Hobson were of a 'threatening' nature and 'expressed anger' at her for being a female priest.

They added that they were treating the hate campaign 'extremely seriously'.

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