Ashley Michael Thomas is a fictional character from the British soap opera Emmerdale, played by John Middleton. He made his first screen appearance during the episode broadcast on 5 December 1996. Ashley currently serves as the sixteenth longest running character in the history of the show.
Ashley becomes the new vicar of St. Mary's church in Emmerdale and he is thrown straight into a confrontation with the Dingle family over a carol singing scam. Ashley becomes attracted to barmaid Bernice Blackstock (Samantha Giles), but she is not impressed by his job. Ashley's feelings for Bernice grow and when she breaks up with her fiancé, he eventually tells her how he feels. They begin a relationship and when they receive Bishop George Postlethwaite's (Peter Cartwright) blessing, they get married. Bernice discovers she is pregnant, but she miscarries. Ashley and Bernice's marriage becomes strained and he decides to leave the village temporarily. Bernice has an affair with Carlos Diaz (Gary Turner), which devastates Ashley. Bernice discovers she is pregnant again and she gives birth to a daughter, who she names Gabrielle (Annelise Manojlovic). A paternity test reveals Ashley is Gabby's father and he and Bernice reconcile. However, Bernice later tells Ashley she does not love him anymore and leaves the village alone.
Ashley begins dating Louise Appleton (Emily Symons). While they enjoy each other's company, Louise and Ashley are not in love and, after nearly dying in a road accident, they part amicably. Ashley realises Laurel Potts (Charlotte Bellamy) has fallen for him, but he initially rebuffs her. When Ashley learns Laurel is leaving the village, he declares his feelings for her. They start a relationship and as Laurel prepares to leave for Tanzania, Ashley proposes. However, Bishop George disapproves of the relationship and Ashley briefly leaves the church, while he and Laurel try to convince George of their love. Ashley's curate, Ethan Blake (Liam O'Brien), falls for Laurel and when she lets him down, he tells George lies about her and Ashley. He is later exposed and George gives the couple his blessing and conducts their wedding service. Ashley is horrified to find his father, Sandy (Freddie Jones), has arrived in the village and he reveals that they fell out because Sandy helped Ashley's mother to die. Ashley makes up with his father and he moves in. Ashley's niece Jasmine (Jenna-Louise Coleman) also comes to stay.
Laurel falls pregnant, delighting her and Ashley. While telling Shadrach Dingle (Andy Devine) off for drinking communion wine, Laurel goes into labour. Shadrach finds the church door is locked and he rings the bells to call for help. Laurel gives birth to a boy in the hospital. She and Ashley name their son Daniel (Rachel Moonie). Not long after they bring Daniel home, Laurel finds Daniel dead in his cot. Ashley and Laurel are devastated and Laurel briefly moves out due to her grief. Hilary Potts (Paula Wilcox), Laurel's mother, suspects that Arthur Doland (Alfie Clarke) is actually Ashley and Laurel's biological son. Arthur's parents Greg (Shaun Prendergast) and Melanie Doland (Caroline Strong) become terrified of losing their son and they try to leave the country, but Ashley and Shadrach stop them. A DNA test confirms Ashley and Laurel are Arthur's biological parents and Ashley successfully fights for custody. Laurel initially struggles to accept Arthur is her son, but she later bonds with him. Bishop George visits Ashley and reveals the Church Council are considering closing the church. Eric Pollard (Chris Chittell) makes a bid for the church, but after a sit-in protest, Eric withdraws his offer.
Bishop George warns Ashley that it is only a matter of time before the church is sold and Ashley gets used to the idea of moving to a different parish. However, Mark (Maxwell Caulfield) and Natasha Wylde (Amanda Donohoe) announce they have purchased the church and will return it to the community, with Ashley and Laurel paying rent. Ashley is asked to captain a local cricket team against his rival, Reverend Vincent Spode (Antony Byrne). Ashley reveals that he hates Vincent for stealing his ideas for a thesis at university and his girlfriend, Sally (Siân Reeves), to whom Vincent is now married. Sally later turns up at the vicarage with her bags, having left Vincent. Ashley allows her to stay for as long as she needs. When Vincent learns where Sally is, he hits Ashley, who starts to believe he has also been bullying Sally. Bishop George insists Sally and Vincent go for counselling, but Sally returns with a black eye and Ashley allows her to stay again. A fire is started in the church and Laurel becomes trapped, she is rescued by Ashley and Zak Dingle. Laurel becomes convinced Sally started the fire and when Ashley refuses to believe her, she and the children leave.
Eventually Ashley realises that he wants his family back. However, Sally reveals that she and Ashley are having an affair. Ashley denies this, but he is still suspended from the church. Sally later accuses him of sexual assault. Edna Birch (Shirley Stelfox) and Bishop George doubt Ashley's innocence until Sally admits she lied. She wrecks Ashley's house and leaves. Laurel moves back, but makes it clear that their marriage will take time to repair. Ashley refuses to conduct Jackson Walsh's (Marc Silcock) funeral, when he learns Aaron Livesy (Danny Miller) helped him to die. He asks another vicar to conduct the service instead. Ashley realises Laurel has been having some sort of affair with Marlon Dingle (Mark Charnock). Laurel confesses that she has feelings for Marlon, but they have not had sex. To test Laurel's commitment to him, Ashley asks Laurel to renew their wedding vows. He asks Jude Watson (Andy Wear) to carry out the ceremony. Ashley asks Laurel to move to another parish in Leeds, but she refuses and they try to get their marriage back on track. Ashley starts taking his anger out on Sandy and Rachel Breckle (Gemma Oaten) becomes suspicious. She calls Adult Services, which infuriates Ashley and Laurel. Ashley forces Sandy to accept a move into a care home. Laurel catches Ashley hitting his father and truth about the abuse comes out. Edna also finds out and calls the police. Ashley is arrested and cautioned. He resigns from his job and later tells the village about what he has done. He moves out and stays with Rodney Blackstock (Patrick Mower) and later gets a job in a burger bar. However, when he is caught stealing discarded burger buns to give to the homeless, Ashley is fired, after three days in the job. He is devastated when Laurel asks for a divorce. In September 2012, Ashley is given the role as barman behind the bar at The Woolpack.