Good Friday Church Police
Police have said they “deeply” regret the hurt caused when a Good Friday service was shut down for breaching Covid-19 restrictions.
Met Police officers found some worshippers without masks and not socially distancing at Christ the King on Balham High Road, London.
Video of officers addressing the congregation inside the church circulated online.
Det Supt Andy Wadey also addressed the congregation after Mass on Sunday.
He said Covid-19 restrictions had been challenging for faith communities, but the restrictions were designed “to protect and support communities in staying safe during the pandemic”.
“We know, however, that many people were very upset by what happened on Good Friday and we deeply regret that,” he said.
Det Supt Wadey also said that there had been “significant reflection and learning” by both officers and senior leaders at New Scotland Yard.
‘Such an important day’
At the time of the incident, a representative of Polish Catholic Mission Balham, which runs the church, said it believed police had “brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason”.
They added the congregation had “been wronged on such an important day for every believer” and that worship had “been profaned”.
- What are the rules for places of worship?
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Most Rev John Wilson, accompanied Supt Wadey to the service on Sunday and said the concerns of the church had “been heard directly by the Metropolitan Police Service”.
“We are all deeply saddened by the events that took place in this church on Good Friday afternoon,” he added.
Communal worship in churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, temples and meeting rooms is allowed under current rules.
The number allowed at any service is determined by a risk assessment on the building where it is held.
Good Friday Church Service
A Good Friday service in south London was broken up by police over apparent breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
Footage uploaded on YouTube showed Metropolitan police officers addressing worshippers at the Christ the King Polish Catholic church in Balham, south London, late on Friday afternoon.
The video shows an officer telling the congregation that they could be fined £200 or arrested for the potential rule-breaking. He said: “This gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently. 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.”
A statement posted on the church’s website on Saturday said that they complied with the order to close the service and for people to go home, but insisted it had met all government requirements. It claimed the Met officers had misunderstood regulations on church services during the pandemic.
They said: “We believe, however, that the police brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason.”
They added that they had been in touch with the Polish Catholic Mission of England and Wales and the police about the incident and were waiting for a more detailed explanation.
In guidance issued to churches before Holy Week, which encompasses the Easter celebrations, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “Care should be taken for the numbers of people present for this liturgy, which is very popular with the faithful. If necessary, additional celebrations can be considered, taking into account the risks associated for the faithful in travelling to and from church.”
A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said no fines were given, and the force was engaging with church authorities over the Easter weekend. He added: “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.”
Police break up Good Friday church service in London for breaching Covid rules
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”