Police break up Good Friday church service in London for breaching Covid rules

3 April 2021, 12:31 | Updated: 4 April 2021, 09:35

A police officer stood at the front of the sanctuary to explain why the service was being ended
A police officer stood at the front of the sanctuary to explain why the service was being ended. Picture: YouTube - Andrzej Fryzicki
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Police broke up a Good Friday church service in south-west London last night for breaching coronavirus regulations.

Footage that emerged on social media on Friday shows two Metropolitan Police officers suspending the pre-Easter service at the Christ the King Polish Roman Catholic Church in Balham.

One of the members of the church invited the officer to the sanctuary to explain to the congregation why the service was being disrupted.

The Met officer outlined that gatherings "with this many people" are unlawful under the government's coronavirus restrictions.

Currently, the guidelines say services should be kept as short as possible, worshippers should keep two metres apart (or one metre if wearing a face covering) from people outside their household and people should not mingle with people outside their household or support bubble.

The officer also directed people to return home or risk either being fined £200 or arrested if they refuse to give their details.

He added that even though it was Good Friday, one of the most important days of the year in the Christian calendar, and he understood people would like to worship, they had to leave due to Covid regulations.

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He said: "Ladies and gentlemen, this gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently.

"You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law.

"At this moment in time, you need to go home.

"Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead you to be fined £200 or, if you fail to give your details, to being arrested.

"I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that though it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, that this gathering is unlawful so please may you leave the building now. Thank you."

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A message posted on the church's website on Saturday says: "On Good Friday, 2 April 2021, during the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, at the time of the Adoration of the Cross, the police arrived at the door of our church at around 6pm.

"We were not allowed to finish the celebration. The police officers found our liturgical assembly illegal, ordering everyone to leave our temple immediately or face a £200 fine for each parishioner present, or even arrest.

"The faithful obeyed this order without objection.

"We believe, however, that the police brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason, as all government requirements were met.

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"We believe municipal police officials have been misinformed about the current place of worship guidelines, claiming that the reason for their intervention is the continued ban on public celebration in places of worship in London due to the lockdown on 4 January 2021.

"We regret that the rights of the faithful have been wronged on such an important day for every believer and that our worship has been profaned.

"We informed the superiors of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales about this incident. We asked the police authorities to explain the incident and we are waiting for their response."

It added: "All scheduled rites for Dedication of Easter, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday will take place in the order indicated.

"We ask everyone to observe the current sanitary requirements in the church and the space of social life and to pray that such situations will not be repeated."

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: "At around 1700hrs on Friday, 2 April, officers were called to a report of crowds of people queuing outside a church in Balham High Road.

"Officers attended and found a large number of people inside the church. Some people were not wearing masks and those present were clearly not socially distanced.

"We are particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus as a result of large indoor gatherings at which people are not socially distanced and some are not wearing masks. As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue.

"Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, officers engaged with the priest outside the church and were invited inside to address the congregation. No fixed penalty notices were issued.

"This was one of a series of numerous events taking place at the church over the Easter period. We are engaging with church authorities today and will continue to do so in the coming days."