Unholy row over bets on archbishop

Last updated 11:54 09/11/2012
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HOT TIP: Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, is due to be named as the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

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A British MP has raised the prospect of insider trading in the Church of England after a last-minute flurry of bets with bookmakers on Justin Welby becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A string of bookmakers stopped taking money on the Bishop of Durham to succeed Dr Rowan Williams earlier this week after a sudden run of money on the favourite even before media reports that the decision was imminent.

It could suggest that figures within the Church decided to take advantage of information they had heard about the outcome to place a bet.

In some cases, people with no previous history of betting opened online accounts to place a wager on Bishop Welby.

The Labour MP Chris Bryant, a former Anglican priest, said it suggested "pretty shabby" behaviour and called for an overhaul of behind-closed-doors selection process. "Then you would not have a situation where people know about the appointment and do this kind of insider trading," he said.

A spokesman for Ladbrokes, which had paid out on Bishop Welby before the official announcement on Friday, said there was no evidence of anything to "ring serious alarm bells".

Graham Sharpe of William Hill joked that "nothing is sacred" after a run of last-minute bets before the book was closed. "There will come a point where, because of the nature of the beast, quite a lot of people have to be aware," he said.

"If an appointment is to be made there is a lot of red tape and people to be told, it is just human nature that that information will go public, but we accept it with good grace."

News of Bishop Welby's selection has delighted evangelicals and traditionalists.

On Thursday night the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said the Crown Nominations Commission had "done its job faithfully and well". He said: "Nothing he has ever done before will have prepared him for this most challenging and exposed of positions, but he will never have a more wonderful opportunity to experience the amazing grace of God."

Bishop Welby's selection has also thrown the spotlight on the Holy Trinity Brompton the remarkable 5000-strong congregation in a well-heeled area of west London that is viewed as Bishop Welby's effective spiritual home.

The church, of which he was a leading member before going into the ministry, has bucked the trend of dwindling congregations and helped revive struggling parishes across the country and beyond. But is best known as having founded the Alpha Course, the introduction to Christianity followed by 19 million people worldwide.

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