Bentley axes its company chaplain in case he upsets non-Christian workers: Employees start campaign to have him reinstatedRev Francis Cooke made redundant just days before ChristmasCompany says too many people of different faiths to warrant chaplainMr Cooke says his role provided counselling for all not just ChristiansStaff have started petition to bring the chaplain back



23:13 GMT, 23 December 2012

Rev Francis Cooke said he wasn't just a chaplain but a counsellor to all faiths

Rev Francis Cooke said he wasn't just a chaplain but a counsellor to all faiths

Every week for ten years the Rev Francis Cooke visited the shop floor at Bentley, offering counselling and advice to the luxury car maker's workers.

But only days before Christmas he has been made redundant because the company says he might offend non-Christians.

It said there were too many religions represented among the 4,000-strong workforce at its factory to warrant a Christian chaplain.

Mr Cooke called the decision 'ridiculous' and said he spoke to workers of all faiths.

Staff have started a campaign to reinstate the vicar, who they said was an 'important figure' who had even helped one employee who had been on the brink of suicide.

Mr Cooke was directly employed by Bentley – it would pay the Diocese of Chester, which would then transfer the funds to the chaplain.

He had outside roles, but this was his only paid work.

He said: 'It is just beyond belief. The reason I have been given is that there are too many people of different faiths to warrant a Christian chaplain. Everyone thinks it is quite ridiculous. There have been no complaints against me and my position is to help people and not just those who are Christians.'

He said he had been told to leave immediately after bosses said they needed to take a 'multi-faith outlook'.

He would visit the factory in Crewe, Cheshire, once a week for six hours, and also ran Christian courses and wrote a message in the firm's newsletters.

'It is not just about offering religious services,' he said. 'I provide counselling to workers who have stresses at home such as broken marriages. I would spend a few minutes with each person which would be enough to help them feel better.

'I feel that there is something else behind this.'

Mr Cooke said there had been a change since the appointment of new personnel by German firm Volkswagen, which took over the British brand in 1998.

'There have been many new faces around recently and I noticed I was being watched when I was talking to some of the staff even if it was just for a matter of seconds or minutes. I knew something was going on and that there was trouble ahead.'

Yesterday one worker said: 'We have started a petition as we want him back. Everyone is really angry about it.'

Retired employee John Austin, 67, said: 'He was there for a lot of people. I know one individual who was feeling suicidal, but Francis turned him around.

He was a very important man at the factory.'

A Bentley Motors spokesman said: 'We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith.

'This now gives us the opportunity to look at this and recognise the range of faiths we have here.'