Claims by a former Darlington vicar of the church being a "conveyor belt" of asylum baptisms have been branded as nonsense by the Church of England. 

The Diocese of Durham was responding to claims by Rev Matthew Firth who told The Telegraph that he “had to put a stop to the conveyor belt and veritable industry of asylum baptisms that was going on”.

Rev Firth spoke out after it emerged that Clapham alkali attack suspect Abdul Ezedi from Newcastle had successfully challenged his asylum refusal after converting to Christianity. This has led to allegations people are converting to Christianity to help them secure their stay in the UK.

The Northern Echo: The Archdeacon of Durham, the Venerable Ian Jagger, places the newly licensed parish priest in his seat at St Cuthbert’s in 2018The Archdeacon of Durham, the Venerable Ian Jagger, places the newly licensed parish priest in his seat at St Cuthbert’s in 2018 (Image: The Northern Echo)

Ezedi is believed to have been supported in his claim by someone from a Baptist church, rather than the Church of England, but the case has prompted strong debate on the issue of conversions overall.

Rev Firth, who was Priest in Charge at St Cuthbert’s and Holy Trinity in Darlington alleged the Church of England is complicit in a “conveyor belt” of asylum seeker baptisms used by migrants to remain in the UK.

He told The Telegraph how he had tried to stop the “veritable industry” of baptisms, claiming he he personally encountered around 20 cases where failed asylum seekers sought baptisms at his church to support their appeals for leave to remain in the UK.

Mr Firth, 41, who left his post to join the Free Church of England, alleged he even witnessed migrants apparently handing money to a Muslim middleman who would bring “cohorts” of asylum seekers to the church for baptisms.

A spokesman for the diocese said: “His claims of the church being a ‘conveyor belt’ of asylum seeker baptisms are nonsense.”

He said they had checked church records and found a total of 15 baptisms since 2014 of people who “may have been asylum seekers”, out of a total of around 80 in that period.

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He said Mr Firth had not reported “anything amiss” during his “brief spell” at the church and, had he done so, allegations “would have been taken seriously and investigated”.

The spokesman said the diocese is “proud of the valuable work all our churches in Darlington do to ensure asylum seekers and refugees are welcomed”.

The Church of England will “happily engage” with the Government around its work with asylum seekers, a leading official said.