Oxford editor clashes with church over vegetable plot

By Dominic Ponsford

A newspaper editor has been accused of harassment by the Church of
England after fighting a campaign prompted by his love of home-grown
vegetables.

Oxfordshire Courier Journal editor Lawrence Webb’s battle with the
Church of England started last year when he began working an abandoned
allotment site near Bicester in Oxfordshire.

Within a few weeks
an agent for the Church of England had stuck up a sign saying: “These
allotments are managed by Carter Jonas LLP on behalf of the Oxford
Diocesan Board of Finance – all enquiries should be directed to Carter
Jonas LLP.”

Webb said that anyone enquiring about renting an allotment was told they couldn’t have one.

Then
Webb, and the handful of other allotment diggers, were told in a letter
from the Diocese of Oxford that a planning application had gone in to
develop the land and that they would be sued if they didn’t vacate it.

Webb
commented on his website www.savetheplot.co.uk: “Seems to say get off
or we will take every penny you’ve got. Bless you, no really. I’m sure
Jesus would be so proud of your behaviour. People trying to grow
vegetables…

support them? Nah, beat them into submission with threats of untold financial damage.”

The
allotments skirmish escalated after Webb started quizzing the church
about its plans for the allotments in his capacity as both an allotment
user and a newspaper editor.

And he was phoned up at the
newspaper by a representative of the parish: “They said that there’s a
journalist at your newspaper conducting a vendetta against the
church.”I said ‘that’s me then’.”

The church then threatened to
take Webb to the Press Complaints Commission and accused him of
harassment after it failed to answer his questions about the future of
the land.

Webb said: “They started accusing me of bullying – but how would they handle someone like Jeremy Paxman?

I only asked them three times.”

Webb
said he was finally promised a press conference when all plans for the
allotments would be revealed, only for that to be cancelled.

He
said: “I think the fact that we’ve had so much interest from other
papers, as well as radio and TV, shows that this is a story.

“The
way it stands at the moment, we’ve got to be off the land by August 28
– but I’ve got parsnips in the ground and sunflowers growing. I don’t
want to say I’m going to defy their threat of court action and risk my
family’s future just for the sake of a few vegetables.”

Webb said
one compromise would be to allow a limited licence to allotment users
allowing them to stay on the land until the bulldozers move in.

In
a statement, the Diocese of Oxford said: “The Church of England has
traditionally held land for the purpose of paying the stipend of its
clergy. The income from this land, known as glebe, plays an important
role in relieving the financial burden on local churches. It is also
charitable land, which means that the church, like any other charity,
is required in law to make the best use of this land to provide income
to pay the clergy in the diocese.”

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