Police in the UK have apologized after nine officers stormed a legal online church service and threatened to prosecute the pastor.
Rev. Daniel Mateola was hosting a virtual service on November 20 in compliance with lockdown rules when officers demanded access to Kingdom Faith Ministries International Church after receiving reports of ‘loud music.’
According to Christian Concern, video footage from the church building shows two officers entering the facility and demanding the support staff leave, claiming they were violating government regulations.
Pastor Mateola attempted to show the officers the government guidance on his laptop, however, the police refused to look. Instead, the officers called for backup before a further seven police officers arrived at the scene.
A few days later, on November 24, officers arrived at Pastor Mateola’s home and informed him that he would be prosecuted for breaking C0VID-19 regulations because the “music was blaring out loud.”
Thames Valley Police later admitted there was a “misunderstanding” and apologized for the distress the officers caused.
Police Chief Superintendent Robert France said: “We have robust review processes in place to look at all enforcement and tickets issued around the coronavirus legislation.
“This incident was reviewed earlier this week and the ticket is in the process of being rescinded and the party involved has been updated.
“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.”
Pastor Mateola, who is one of over a hundred church leaders pursuing a judicial review against the government’s decision to close churches, later said in a statement that he is deeply shocked and hurt by what has happened.
“I am relieved that the police have recognized their mistake and have apologised. I have been treated like a criminal while legally seeking to be a blessing and to bring hope to my fellow-citizens at a time of great need physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“Sadly, the government and police appear to have no understanding of what a church is, what it does and why it is so important to our society, especially for the most vulnerable and the lonely.
“Although I have joined a legal challenge against the government’s decision to close churches, I have nevertheless followed the regulations that have been in force. Despite this I still found myself facing prosecution. If the police do not understand the regulations it is small wonder that church leaders are confused.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It is astonishing and disturbing in its own right to see nine police officers breaking up a church broadcast and treating it’s leader with such disrespect. But to then turn up unannounced at Pastor Mateola’s family home and prosecute him, is sinister and almost unbelievable.
“There are so many other things the police could be doing to support and protect our communities at this time of crisis. Why go to so much effort to shut down an online church broadcast?”
Ms Williams went on to 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.”
Tory MP Peter Bone said he was “flabbergasted” by the incident.
“This looks like a police state – it’s the sort of thing that would happen in Communist China.
“You would think those police officers might have better things to do than persecute someone doing an online service. Instead of breaking it up and trying to fine him, they should be congratulating him on what he’s doing.”