A man who conducted a campaign of terror against a village rector has been jailed after being convicted of harassment.
The homeless man - Brian Simmonds - set up a tent in the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Storrington, and lived there for months before being served with an eviction order when he refused to move.
He later bombarded the Rev Kathryn Windslow, rector of St Mary’s, with voicemails and notes. The rector said this week that Simmonds had threatened her and the Archdeacon of Horsham, the Venerable Fiona Windsor.
Simmonds was sentenced at Crawley Magistrates Court last month to 26 weeks in jail and banned from contacting the two clergy or entering the church or church grounds for four years. He was also ordered to pay £500 in compensation. He had earlier pleaded not guilty but was convicted.
The court said that the jail sentence had been imposed because the offences were deemed ‘so serious’ and that there had been a ‘history of harassment with considerable impact upon the victims.’
The jail term also took into account the breach of a previously-imposed suspended sentence for harassment against another woman whom Simmonds called, texted, left voicemails and unwarranted picture messages.
Following the hearing, the Rev Windslow said today: “I think it is unfortunate that it has come to this but in the light of continuous harassment I had no choice but to seek help from the police.”
She described Simmmonds’ behaviour as a real campaign against her and that he had threatened her and the Ven Windsor. She said it had ‘to be taken extremely seriously. It was frightening’.
She added: “He has made my life very difficult and he has made the lives of very many other people difficult. He has been really difficult with people in the community and there was no need for it.
“People worked hard to help him. He has been offered multiple opportunities for housing, but nothing quite suits him.”
Simmonds had previously said that he declined housing offers because he said he could not take his pet cat with him. But, said Ms Windslow: “The last property he was offered was a bungalow in Fittleworth which was suitable for the cat but he didn’t even bother to see it.”
Ms Windslow paid tribute to the local community who, she said, had given her a lot of support. Simmonds, she added, was “a man who can come across as very pleasant, but there is another side to him.
“I hope that his time at Her Majesty’s pleasure might give him an opportunity to find appropriate support and help. It is beyond what a community can offer. He needs specialist help.”
Brian Simmonds hit the headlines in the West Sussex County Times in December 2017 when solicitors acting on behalf of the Rev Windslow served a notice on him requiring him to leave the church property where he had been camping in a tent in the graveyard for more than six months.
Ms Windslow said at the time that some people were hindered by his presence from visiting relatives’ graves.
Earlier, in May 2017, Simmonds had been evicted from a tent pitch near Rother Community College in Midhurst.