Vicar 'kissed me passionately', says tourist board chief

A vicar tried to French kiss the head of a tourist board on her doorstep and then calmly discussed parish matters with her over a cup of tea, a disciplinary hearing was told yesterday.

Christine Collier, chief executive of the Cumbria Tourist Board, told an ecclesiastical hearing that she had been shocked and confused to find the Rev Harry Brown towering over her as he delivered his kiss. His arms had been outstretched as he bounded up to her door to congratulate her on securing her job, in July 1996, she added.

"One moment he was coming towards me ... and the next he was ... kissing me passionately," she told the hearing yesterday at St Chad's Church in York.

Mr Brown, 49, is appealing against a decision by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev Graham Dow, to sack him from his post in September 2001.

After making his advance, Mr Brown began discussing everyday parish matters, Ms Collier said. She made a quick escape to the kitchen where, with her "mind in a whirl", she "instinctively put the kettle on". But after carrying the tea to the sitting room, the vicar joined her on the sofa, put his arms around her and attempted a second "passionate" kiss, she said. "This time I had my wits about me a bit more, so I immediately pushed him away."

Ms Collier, who is 51, was made an OBE last year for her services to Cumbria. Though she immediately withdrew from church affairs after the incident, Mr Brown, who is in charge of Crosscrake and Preston Patrick, two hamlets just south of Kendal in the Lake District, failed to get the message, she said.

The hearing was told that after spotting her at a torchlight procession party in Kendal two months later, he began hammering on the door of a toilet she was occupying and, when she emerged, said he wanted to kiss her again. "I was not polite," Ms Collier told the hearing, which opened four months ago.

The bishop revoked Mr Brown's licence after more than a dozen parishioners complained about sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation, mental abuse and financial irregularities. Canon law C12 allows a bishop to summarily revoke a vicar's living "for any cause which appears to him to be good and reasonable".

The hearing, chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, was told that an initial evening visit by Mr Brown to Ms Collier's home, to discuss her decision to join the parochial church council, had been far more successful. The two had talked about her faith and she had sent him a card soon afterwards. The card said: "Nobody has ever given me the chance to talk so freely about my faith before."

Ms Collier's late decision to testify at the disciplinary hearing – she made her first formal statement about his behaviour in April – persuaded the former priest to make detailed claims.

Ms Collier laughed when Martin Johnson, Mr Brown's counsel, gave details of their alleged conversations. Mr Johnson said Ms Collier had visited the vicar to discuss problems with her marriage – dissolved, coincidentally, 10 days ago – frustrations with her work and sexual fantasies, which she "used up" through long-distance running, he said.

"That's just a lie, Harry. Come on!" she said to the vicar, who was sitting a few feet away. "I'm beginning to think this is a bit absurd."

Ms Collier also denied that she was an "unnamed blond woman" who had had an affair with another parishioner after a New Year's Eve party and that Mr Brown's ability to plant his French kiss proved she had welcomed it. "I've never used the term 'French kiss'. If that was a French kiss, I'm surprised it's got the popular appeal it has," she said.

"I feel that, had I not had personal experience of this, I would have been supporting Harry as much as other parishioners. I just felt they were caring, honest, good people and I thought they deserved to at least hear what happened to me."

Mr Brown knew Ms Collier because they were both on the governing board of a local primary school. The hearing is expected to finish today.

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