THE closure of a church service that was alleged to violate Covid-19 restrictions was due to a “misunderstanding”, the Chief Superintendent of Thames Valley Police, Robert France, has said.
‘I must warn you that anything you sing may be used in evidence. . .’
A member of the public called the police about loud music coming from Kingdom Faith Ministries International Church, Milton Keynes, two weeks ago. Police officers entered the church at 7.15 p.m. on 20 November, and disrupted a service that was being broadcast to 150 online viewers by the Apostolic Leader of Kingdom Faith Ministries, Pastor Daniel Mateola.
He was told that he was breaking Covid-19 regulations, and that only two other staff members were allowed in the building.
Guidelines for worship services during the pandemic state that “the numbers or people involved should be kept as small as possible to minimise risks and participants should follow social distancing guidance.” Musicians, singers and technical support staff are allowed in the building, however, if they normally form part of the service.
An extra seven police officers were summoned when Mr Mateola tried to argue that the service was complying with pandemic restrictions: a reaction that, he felt, “unnecessarily” escalated the situation. The police officers present had said that there were 30 people in the building; Mr Mateola stated that only half this number were present.
The police came to his house four days later, and told him that he was being arrested for violating Covid-19 regulations. Thames Valley Police have since confirmed that Mr Mateola will not be prosecuted.
In a statement issued last Friday, Mr France apologised for the conduct of those involved. There had been a “misunderstanding”, he said, “by our officers of the legislation in place in what is an ever-changing and complex area of enforcement”.
He went on: “There has been a mistake in the issuing of this ticket, and I would like to apologise for the distress I know this is likely to have caused.”
Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Mateola, said on Monday: “We call on the Government and the police to urgently engage and seek to fully understand what a church is; why they are so important to our communities; why the freedom to worship matters; and why churches are needed now more than ever at this unprecedented time.”
Mr Mateola is one of 122 church leaders calling for a judicial review of the decision to close churches in England and Wales to collective worship.
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