Songs of Praise vicar was jailed for bank robbery before turning life around

A vicar on todays’ Songs of Praise once served four years in jail for bank robbery.

But the Rev Matt Martinson turned his life around after having his collar felt – and got a dog collar instead.

The 44-year-old did the bank job after suffering a troubled childhood and years of drink and drug abuse.

He said: “My dad was an alcoholic and from a very early age I started drinking.

“It literally took over my life. That’s when I ended up committing serious crime – armed robbery, drugs, the whole lifestyle that goes with that.”

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Matt, who carried out the bank robbery in York in 1995, said: “I did need to be punished for the crimes that I did.Do I regret them? Very much. I still pray for the victims of the crimes I’ve done.

“But through my journey through prison I learned more about God.”

After serving his sentence, Matt completed ordination training in 2010 and is now based at St Luke’s Church in Carlisle.

Even a major stroke, which left him paralysed and wheelchair-bound, is counted as a blessing by the rev.

He said: “Halfway through my training a bible college I went to bed one night, woke up the next morning and couldn’t feel my legs. I’d had a spinal stroke. It hit me hard.

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“But I thank God I’m in the wheelchair because it’s opened up a ministry to me that I never thought I’d have.”

After seeing the light while he was on the inside, Matt now goes outside to spread the word.

He hits the streets of Carlisle waving a sign that reads “Curious about Wheelchairs? Ask Me Anything!”

And as people discuss disability with him, his dog collar starts to spark questions about life and religion.

He said: “I’m coming out here to meet people where they’re at, just like Jesus would.

“He wasn’t one for sitting in the Synagogue. I come out on all days, all weathers.”

He adds: “Although it starts with the wheelchair, it leads into the faith aspect. What better way to be able to communicate that message of God’s love.”

  • Songs of Praise is on BBC One at 1.15pm tomorrow.

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