Car blaze - man faced police probe

A CLERGYMAN thought to have committed suicide in a blazing car outside his home days after he was arrested by police investigating allegations of indecent assault on a teenage boy had vehemently denied the claims.

A CLERGYMAN thought to have committed suicide in a blazing car outside his home days after he was arrested by police investigating allegations of indecent assault on a teenage boy had vehemently denied the claims.

The Rev John Pugh, 54, minister of the United Reformed Church in Stowmarket, died in a blazing Honda car at 3.30pm in Temple Road in the town on Tuesday.

The minister's 17-year-old son Barnaby suffered burns trying to free his father by smashing a window of the car. He has been treated and released from the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds.

Police sources said that it was thought that the Mr Pugh had committed suicide after getting into the car and said there was no evidence to suggest that his death was in anyway criminal or accidental.

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It has now been revealed Mr Pugh was arrested towards the end of last week amid allegations that he indecently assaulted a boy in his early teens during the late 1980s, and was released on police bail.

David Lawrence, national spokesman for Britain's 1,800 United Reform Churches, said: "I know that he was arrested and released on police bail. My understanding is that he was vehemently denying the accusation made against him."

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In a statement released by Mr Lawrence, the Church said: "In more than 20 years of service in Stowmarket and the surrounding villages John Pugh had sat and mourned with countless people who had lost loved ones, shared the joy of joining couples in marriage, celebrated with parents the birth of countless children.

"There will be so many people whom he has helped who will remember him with affection and gratitude.

"The Church has not been informed officially of the details of the allegation made against John Pugh, though he made it plain to the Church that he vehemently denied that allegation. The authorities have neither sought information from the Church nor supplied any information other than what is

in the public domain.

"However John will have understood that the allegation against him would inevitably cast a cloud over his work and over the ministry to which he had given his life.

"He was subject to suspension as a minister because the Church has no choice but to act - and to be seen to act - in such circumstances. That too must have been a bitter blow.

"The prayers of the whole Church are with all those who have been hurt by these tragic events.''

An investigation has been launched to establish the cause of the fire, and it is understood that the minister was seen walking towards the car with a container, possible containing petrol shortly before the fire started.

A statement from Suffolk Constabulary said: "Suffolk Police can confirm it was investigating allegations against John Pugh of indecent assault on a male aged under 16 years.

"The complaint was received at the beginning of May this year and related to a number of historical assaults that took place in the late 1980's on a boy aged in his early teens, at two separate addresses in Stowmarket.

"Mr Pugh was arrested on the May 29 and was interviewed in connection with this allegation. He was released on police bail pending further investigations and was due to return to Stowmarket Police Station on 21 July.

"No further information will be released at this stage, pending the coroner's inquest into Mr Pugh's death.''

Mr Pugh's family felt unable to talk about their tragic loss yesterday, but tributes to his work were pouring in and flowers were left at the scene of his death. Some contained messages conveying sympathy, telling how he will be missed, and in the centre of Stowmarket a town flag was flying at half-mast as the town council paid their respects.

In a statement the Rt Rev Richard Lewis, Bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese and the Rt Rev Clive Young, Bishop of Dunwich, said: "Our thoughts and prayers and those of the diocese are with his wife, family and friends. John served the church with distinction, both as minister of Stowmarket United Reformed Church and as champion of inter-church co-operation and partnership."

A statement issued on behalf of Churches Together in Suffolk said: "The tragic news of the death of the Rev John Pugh has been received across Suffolk and beyond with a sense of shock and unbelief.

"John served as chair of Churches Together in Suffolk and exercised that office with great dignity and integrity. He was minister of the Stowmarket United Reform Church and gave himself unstintingly to the pastoral role of caring and loving.

"John lived his personal and ministerial life on a large map. Local community, county, national and international issues were part of his whole approach in presenting the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

"He was committed to an ecumenical demonstration in his whole approach to Christian discipleship and served as the officer for the United Reformed Church in Suffolk over a number of years.

"Remaining true to his traditions and background nevertheless he was prepared at all times to be alongside those of other traditions, always feeling he had still much to learn and experience.

"His leadership and friendship will be greatly missed over the county and across all our denominational powers. We take this opportunity to offer to his wife and family and to John's congregation our prayers and understanding at this extremely difficult time for them all."

Rev Pugh was minister of Moldgreen United Reform Church in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, from 1974 to 1980. He left 23 years ago to take up a post at Stowmarket United Reformed Church.

He met his wife Diane, a former teacher at Almondbury High School, Huddersfield, while in Moldgreen. They also had a daughter Rebecca, who was born while he was a minister in Moldgreen. They had been married 27 years.

The Rev George Courtney, minister of Moldgreen United Reformed Church said parishioners were saddened by the news and added that Mr Pugh kept in touch with many church members in Huddersfield despite moving to Suffolk.

Mrs Barbara Mellor and her husband Kenneth of Moldgreen had been friends with the minister since he came to Huddersfield. They visited him many times in Stowmarket and saw him last week.

Mrs Mellor said: "He was very popular, everywhere he went. The church at Stowmarket though the world of him. He was a really good man.

"He will be sadly missed. We had so many good times with him, we just can't believe we won't see him again. He was like one of the family."

Mr Pugh, who was a minister for 29 years since training at New College in London, was heavily involved in the Huddersfield community during his six years in the town.

He was a chaplain at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and was formerly chairman of Huddersfield and District Council of Churches. He was also chairman of the Huddersfield and Halifax District of the United Reform Church.

He was involved with the Boy's Brigade, establishing the Moldgreen branch.

He was also national chaplain for the Boy's Brigade and was vice-president of the Yorkshire and Humberside Boy's Brigade.

He was also a member of the National Council for Voluntary Service and the Youth Committee of the United Reform Church.

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