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First look at Ashley Thomas's heartbreaking funeral on Emmerdale

Gemma Strong

Emmerdale has released the first images from Ashley Thomas's funeral, which will air on ITV next week. The pictures show a huge crowd gathered in the church to pay their final respects to the much-loved vicar - played by actor John Middleton - including Ashley's wife Laurel, son Arthur and daughter Gabby. Ashley has been living with vascular dementia for nearly two years. His final scenes will be aired on Friday, when he passes away just a few days after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

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Emmerdale has released the first images from Ashley Thomas's funeral

In the aftermath of his death, Ashley's loved ones are all seen struggling to come to terms with their loss. Charlotte Bellamy, who stars as Laurel, told Digital Spy: "Laurel feels numb after Ashley's death and she's on autopilot. Laurel wasn't prepared to lose Ashley at all, because she thought they had years left together. He's taken so abruptly and Laurel just wasn't ready for it."

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She added: "There's a big turnout at the funeral, but that's no surprise really because Ashley has been such a central part of the village over the years. The service is really beautiful and it's a celebration of his life – especially as it's in the church where he served for many years."

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Charlotte Bellamy - who plays Ashley's wife Laurel - recently opened up about aftermath of his death

Charlotte also spoke about what it was like to say goodbye to John, who has played Ashley for the past 21 years. "We gave him a right good send-off," she revealed. "I said in my speech at his leaving party that I've never been to a leaving do and seen so many people there. It was brimming with people – cast, crew, production team, writers and directors. That is a testament to John and how much he's loved and respected. As in any soap, the machine carries on, but I do feel a little bit lost at times without John. I'm sure it will get easier, but he's been such a huge part of my life in Emmerdale and I so miss him."

STORY: Emmerdale's John Middleton reveals Ashley's final scenes left crew in tears