Masked Asian youths stone vicar in attempt to burn down his church

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The Independent Online

Bradford suffered an ominous reminder of its racial tensions yesterday when an Anglican vicar told how he was chased and stoned by up to 50 masked Asian youths who tried to set fire to his church.

Bradford suffered an ominous reminder of its racial tensions yesterday when an Anglican vicar told how he was chased and stoned by up to 50 masked Asian youths who tried to set fire to his church.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Right Rev David Smith, whose customary care with words after such incidents is commensurate with his vast race-relations experience, issued a grave warning. "Many Muslim people are unhappy about the bombing of Afghanistan but they do not show their feelings in this way," he said. "We fear that foolish young people will be encouraged by the so-called role models that go into terrorism."

West Yorkshire Police described the attack on St Philip's Church in Girlington as the first serious racial incident since rioting erupted near by on 7 July, though no evidence suggests the choice of target was premeditated.

The vicar of St Philip's, the Rev Tony Tooby, 43, was confronted by the gang when he drove to the church with wood for the annual bonfire on adjacent derelict land. He saw a group of youths in the church and stopped to investigate but he was chased out to a shout of "get the white bastard".

He was trying to call police on his mobile phone from his car when a stone was thrown through the rear window.

Mr Tooby said he crouched as low as possible and drove away. "When some people see what is happening in Pakistan it does affect the young people," he said.

Inside the 140-year-old church yesterday there was a strong stench of petrol. The nave carpet was still sodden with petrol the gang had spread as a fire accelerant. Only an antique chair and altar cloth were burnt before police arrived and the gang fled, leaving the church strewn with hymn books and children's toys. One of the church's original stained glass windows was also smashed.

Local youths said the attack followed heavy-handed treatment by police who halted the planned bonfire on Monday, though a burnt-out car amid the ashes yesterday suggested that the force's decision may have been appropriate. Bonfire Night disturbances are nothing new to West Yorkshire's old mill towns; a dedicated task force has been meeting for three years to try to stop the cycle of violence which "starts with firework throwing and gravitates to stones and rocks", the city's divisional commander Chief Superintendent Phil Read said yesterday.

But violence across the region on Monday demonstrated the fragility of law and order: three people were arrested after violence in Halifax, including an attack on a house and two cars being torched, police in riot gear were attacked by 30 to 40 youths throwing stones and fireworks after more cars were set alight in Harehills, Leeds, another scene of summer rioting.

Ch Supt Read's officers are now reporting what he describes as "the USA dynamic", young whites and Asians using the Afghanistan conflict to abuse each other. A 50-strong multi-faith group convened weekly by police after 11 September has been trying to address contentious issues, including the stopping by police of young Muslims wearing pro-Taliban T-shirts.

Muslim mothers have been approached for help in preventing their children wearing them and headteachers in the Bradford are being asked to help find alternative ways for pupils to express their views.

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