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Vicar vows to lead celibate life after attack by gay lover

A vicar, scarred for life in an attack by his gay lover, has returned to work in his parish admitting he made a mistake.

His "brief encounter" with Steven Barber, a 36-year-old nurse, led him to being slashed in the face with a scalpel and needing more than 200 stitches. Yesterday an Old Bailey judge ordered that Barber should be sent to a secure psychiatric unit indefinitely.

The Reverend Nigel Asbridge returned to the Holy Innocents church in Hornsey, north London, a few months after the attack.

"His congregation has been very supportive throughout," said the Rev Rob Harrison, a spokesman for the Bishop of Edmonton yesterday. "There was no long term relationship. The sexual relationship was extremely short term. It was a very brief encounter.

"There is no question he is a practising homosexual. He is committed to the principle that homosexual clergy should aim to lead celibate lives. He admits he has made a mistake and has paid dearly for it."

Barber admitted causing Mr Asbridge grievous bodily harm in December last year. He had seen "a vision" and had gone to the clergyman's home intending to kill himself.

Mr Asbridge had tried to disarm Barber when he pulled out a scalpel and threatened to kill himself, said Peter Walsh, for the prosecution. Barber then told Mr Asbridge he was going to kill him and struck him with the scalpel on the top of the head. Blood ran into the cleric's eyes and he ran to the door but in panic could not open it, said Mr Walsh. Barber slashed him through the forehead, nose and lips and into the neck.

Mr Asbridge managed to open the door and escape. He saw Barber slash his own neck. Barber appeared in court bearing scars where he tried to cut himself from ear to ear.

Mr Asbridge was introduced to Barber in 1993. Barber had told him he was depressed and wanted someone to talk to. "It developed into an emotional and sexual relationship."

But during a holiday in Greece in 1994, Barber became violent towards the vicar, threatening to kill him.

Mr Asbridge had the impression Barber was suffering from Aids and was going to die, so he took a sympathetic attitude, the court was told.

Joanna Greenberg, QC, for the defence, said: "This is a tragic case for all concerned. Obviously for the Reverend, who had had his private life exposed and suffered grave injuries - but no less for this defendant who had made a contribution, through his work, to others."

Mr Harrison said that Mr Asbridge had been interviewed by the Bishop of Edmonton before returning to work, but there had never been any question of him being suspended. "He is a very good vicar. He is clearly the victim. He had tried to help Steven Barber - his intention always was to be helpful and supportive and it was abused."