Church rift over bypass blessing

The Independent Saturday 10 February 1996

strong>Ros Wynne-Jones

A group of churchmen who held an on-site service for Newbury bypass protesters yesterday and compared the Government with Pontius Pilate have angered the local pro-bypass diocese.

The Right Rev John Bickersteth, the former Bishop of Bath and Wells, told the protesters: «Please help our government to see how feeble and two-faced they are being, like Pontius Pilate.»

He was joined by the Rev Peter Owen-Jones, of Ely diocese, who asked for «God's forgiveness in working with the land».

One protester, jill Isley, said it was like a scene from the apocalypse. «There were bonfires burning in a sea of filth and mud, the rain poured, there were policemen and vans and, in the middle of it all, these men of God talking about nature.»

But the Diocese of Oxford said that Mr Owen-Jones was «not acting on behalf of the local churches». They had long campaigned against the route, but there was now no doubt; «Newbury needs a bypass, and many people recognise this will bring great benefit.»