EARLIER this year the Rev Mark Sharpe sued the Ministry of Defence for sexual harassment. During the tribunal he told how his time on board two ships with the Royal Navy was ruined by sailors viewing a continual stream of hardcore pornography and violence.

Having left the Navy, the father-of-four swapped the sea for the countryside and took up a new post as vicar of the Teme Valley South ministry.

However, Mr Sharpe was soon to find that life in rural Worcestershire wasn't quite what he had expected.

It should have been the ideal spot for a bit of R and R after the trauma of Navy life with its daily diet of extreme pornography.

A ministry in rural Worcestershire, boasting some of the most glorious countryside in middle England, seemed to be the perfect place for 39-year-old Rev Mark Sharpe to re-establish some stability in his life. And all went well when he, his wife Sarah and their four children, arrived in the Teme Valley South ministry in January 2005.

But as Mr Sharpe started his job, with specific instructions from the diocese to iron out a few particular problems, and his case against the Navy finally reached an industrial tribunal, life in the Teme valley took a sinister turn.

He began receiving anonymous threatening letters, was told that "it was not his church (it was not made clear in the letter which one), but a local church for local people" and was clearly warned to "keep his nose out" when he suggested the use of glebe land to provide low cost housing for local residents who could not afford to buy other properties.

"If things are wrong I try to do something about it. I have had my tyres slashed. I have had anonymous threatening letters. I have received other unkind signed letters. I have had fuel stolen from my heating oil tank on two occasions and once we had water put in the tank so we had to have the tank bled. The phone has been tampered with and the exchange reckoned it had been done deliberately.

"I have had nuisance calls and every now and again we get a prowler. It is very sinister," he said.

He said the personal attacks became really intense once the industrial tribunal started. "That's what kicked it off. It was like vomit coming out."

Mr Sharpe and his family attended a village fete last year, where he said all but one person deliberately turned their backs to him.

"Every parish has its warts but this is extreme. It seems to be extreme localism to the point of being unhealthy. They won't even accept the input from neighbouring villages. This is about local power.

"There are a good chunk of people out here who are not party to the nastiness and they are upset by all this. There are a number of losers in all this."

He said he believes his ministry, which covers Eastham, Hanley William, Hanley Childs, Kyre, Rochford and Stoke Bliss, has a dubious past and a vicious hate campaign against the vicars by a few individuals has been going on for about 30 years.

The previous incumbent resigned after 18 months and the last three all left the church, he said.

Mr Sharpe discovered a copy of the parish magazine dating back to December 1984 in the loft of his rectory. In it was a letter from Rev Frances Biddlecombe, the departing vicar, who said: "In the pulpit and in the two magazines I have tried to state what I believe to be the truth. Not everyone has liked what I have written and said. Some have tried their hardest to get rid of me from this place."

He went on: "I am believing that, in spite of the predjudiced and misguided actions of some individuals (very few in actual number, although exceedingly vociferous and masterly in the art of letter writing!) that God is at work in this situation."

Mr Sharpe, who has been signed off sick for the past six months and exempt from his parish duties, said: "The rural dean arranges cover with retired priests and it is difficult for him to get people who are prepared to come out here."

However, the attacks on him and his property have abated since the police became involved but Mr Sharpe does not take any chances - his dogs are always on guard and the house is very securely locked and bolted.

Sam Setchell, Worcester diocesan spokeswoman, said: "We are aware of the situation and the bishop considers it one of the most serious situations in the Worcester Diocese.

"The Bishop of Worcester the Rt Rev Peter Selby and the Bishop of Dudley have been involved as well as the archdeacon and the rural dean.

"The rural dean has gone to a lot of parochial church council meetings and Mark Sharpe has been signed off sick for the past six months."

Bishop Peter Selby said he was not at liberty to comment apart from saying that the situation in the Teme Valley South was on his mind most days.

"I know what is going on and I am dealing with a very difficult situation," he said.

Tomorrow: the truth about his life as a Royal Navy Chaplain