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Oxford Passion Play halted by 'mistake, not hostility'

25 April 2014

AN ADMINISTRATIVE error by a council official in Oxford ballooned from a minor local frustration into an international news story during Holy Week, after the Daily Mail suggested that the reason for the cancellation of a Passion play on Good Friday was that it had been mistaken for a public sex-show along one of the busiest streets in Oxford.

The Cowley Road Passion Play is organised by staff and ordinands at St Stephen's House, and involves students, local churches of different denominations, and other members of the community. On 12 April, however, the organisers announced "with great disappointment and frustration" that the play had been cancelled.

Nine days before the Passion play was to take place, the organisers were informed that they would need to apply for a licence, despite having not needed one in 2012. They were also told that the deadline for the submission of an application had been the day before. The organisers decided to cancel the performance rather than commit an offence.

It later became clear that, as the Passion play was a religious and community event, no licence had been needed. The official responsible, Julian Alison, said that he "did not appreciate that this was a religious event", and apologised to the organisers and to members of the public for his mistake.

The Daily Mail suggested that Mr Alison had thought that the Passion play was a sex-show, and its story was taken up by national and international media outlets.

The Principal of St Stephen's House, the Revd Dr Robin Ward, said: "People make mistakes, and it is a great shame it was cancelled when it didn't need to be. But it was a mistake, not a hostile act, and we ought to be patient about it."

On Good Friday, a walk of witness took place along Cowley Road instead of the Passion play. There are plans for a play in 2016.

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