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Minister was arrested over abuse claim

PUBLISHED: 13:32 04 June 2003 | UPDATED: 13:57 03 March 2010

A CHURCH minister who died in a burning car outside his home was being investigated over allegations that he had indecently assaulted a young boy, the Evening Star can reveal.

A CHURCH minister who died in a burning car outside his home was being investigated over allegations that he had indecently assaulted a young boy, the Evening Star can reveal.

The Rev John Pugh, 54, minister of Stowmarket United Reformed Church, was in his Honda car when the vehicle burst into flames.

Neighbours told how a teenage boy, believed to be the minister's son Barnaby, desperately tried to free his father by smashing a window of the burning car.

But the fire, which police are not treating as suspicious, was too severe and the boy was taken to the West Suffolk Hospital with minor burns to his arm.

It has now been revealed that he was arrested by Suffolk police on Thursday on suspicion of indecently assaulting a teenage boy during the late 1980s and 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."

The blaze started shortly after 3.30pm outside Mr Pugh's home in Temple Road, Stowmarket.

Although an investigation is underway to establish the cause of the fire, it is understood that the minister was seen shortly before walking towards the car with a container, possible containing petrol.

Residents described hearing a loud bang and ran out of their homes to see the vehicle in flames. Many tried to pour water onto the car to try and douse the flames but were beaten back by the heat.

Mr Pugh, who has been a church minister for 29 years, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A resident of Temple Road who lives a few metres from where the silver car was parked was one of the first people on the scene.

The man, who wished not to be identified, said: "I was outside and heard a bang. I saw another person in the street near the car and I asked if there was anybody else in the car. He said there was and I tried the door, but it couldn't get it open. I don't know if it was locked.

"Inside the car all there were flames and thick black smoke but I couldn't get the door open so I ran back to the house and picked up a fire extinguisher.

"I then tried to extinguish the fire but I couldn't get near the car as it was too hot."

Eddie Meelan, divisional officer with Suffolk Fire Service, said: "When crews arrived they found the car fully involved in fire at that stage. It became evident soon after that someone was within the car.

Mr Pugh has been minister at the United Reformed Church for more than 20 years. In 1999, he celebrated his 25th anniversary of ordination to the Christian ministry.

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