Runaway vicar Simon Reynolds thought to have fled to Europe

Church of England vicar Simon Reynolds, 50, at Sheffield Crown Court at the start of his trial

Church of England vicar Simon Reynolds, 50, at Sheffield Crown Court at the start of his trial

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Criminal vicar Simon Reynolds is believed to have fled to Europe, police said this afternoon.

The reverend vanished from Sheffield Crown Court just hours before a jury found him guilty of theft offences on Thursday.

Simon Reynolds, 50, in 2011

Simon Reynolds, 50, in 2011

South Yorkshire Police said today that officers have been following a number of lines of enquiry in a bid to locate Reynolds, including working with police forces in England and overseas.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Whittaker, who is working on the investigation to find Reynolds, said: “Simon, your friends and colleagues are very worried about you and we need you to get in touch with police.

“It is in your best interests to return as soon as possible and allow the justice process to take its course.”

The Bishop of Wakefield has now urged Reynolds to return home.

Bishop Tony Robinson said: “Simon, we would like to assure you that you are in our prayers and all our thoughts at this difficult time.

“We are very concerned for your well-being and urge you to be in touch and allow justice to take its course. Never forget we are praying for you.”

Police do not hold a photograph of Reynolds but he is described as being around 5ft 10ins tall and of heavy build.

He wears glasses and was last seen wearing a beige linen jacket and dark trousers.

At this time, the police believe that Reynolds may have travelled to mainland Europe and further enquiries are ongoing with Interpol.

Anyone who has seen Reynolds, or who knows his whereabouts, should call 101 quoting incident number 864 of July 23, 2015.

Reynolds, aged 50, who said he found bookkeeping a ‘bore’, was found guilty of stealing more than £24,000 in fees paid for funerals and weddings.

The verdicts were delivered in his absence, with his barrister Alasdair Campbell unable to explain where he was.

It resulted in Judge Julian Goose ordering a warrant for his arrest.

Reynolds abused his position by pocketing cash which should have been handed over to church authorities.

The money was paid by mourners and happy couples in fees to Reynolds which he received for officiating at services at All Saints Church in the village of Darton, near Barnsley.

He should have passed the cheques on to the Diocesan Board of Finance but kept some of the fees for himself and also stole money due to the Parochial Church Council paid by relatives for the erection of mounuments and plaques in the churchyard.

Reynolds, who now lives in Farnham, Surrey was the clergyman at Darton from March, 2007 until he left in March, 2013 to take up his new position in Surrey.

He was found guilty of four offences of theft by a jury after a week-long trial.

Reynolds said of his bookkeeping duties during the trial: “Frankly it was a bore. It just got put to one side.”

He admitted he was ‘pretty incompetent’ at financial matters and said: “I took a view that people were more important than money.”

As priest in charge he was paid a stipend – or salary – and his responsibilty was to make a monthly declaration of all fees he had received for services and hand them over to the church authorities.

But he simply had the fees cheques made out to him personally and paid them into his own bank account.

The Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales and the Diocese of Guildford have released a joint statement asking Reynolds to get in touch.

The Venerable Peter Townley, the Archdeacon of Pontefract, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by this crime.

“We deeply regret any further pain caused to those families who paid fees to Simon for funerals and our hope is that this conviction now affords some peace.

“The consequences of Simon’s actions have been felt far and wide, not least by parishioners here in Darton but also in Farnham, Surrey, to where he moved in March 2013.

“It is of course a matter of deep disappointment when a member of clergy acts in anything other than an exemplary manner.”

The Venerable Stuart Beake, the Archdeacon of Surrey, said: “While none of the offences took place in Farnham, the ramifications have certainly been felt and yet St Andrew’s has continued to serve its community offering a range of groups, services, events and music in the centre of town.

“Now that a verdict has been reached in the case, the parish can begin to plan for the future but we will have to await details of sentencing before determining the appropriate disciplinary outcome from the process Simon will face as a result of the conviction.

“Simon remains suspended, pending sentencing.”