Police shut down a Good Friday service at a Polish church in south London for breaching coronavirus rules and threatened worshippers with a £200 fine each.
Footage captured officers interrupting a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion service at Christ the King Polish church in Balham at around 6pm on Friday.
One police officer was filmed telling parishioners that the gathering was “unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations”.
He added: “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 you being arrested.
“It’s Good Friday and I appreciate you would like to worship, but it is unlawful,” he said.
The church has criticised the police for storming the service, saying it believes the officers “brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason” because “all government requirements were met”.
It said it had informed the superiors of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales about the incident and asked the police to explain.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed an “engagement” took place at the church, adding they were called to a report of “crowds of people queuing outside a church in Balham High Road”.
Police said they “engaged with the priest” outside the church and understood the sensitivity of the situation, and were invited inside to address the congregation. They said no fines were issued.
“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,” the police statement said.
It said officers are concerned about the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus due to large indoor gatherings at which some people are not socially distanced and not wearing masks.
“As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue,” the statement added.
The church claims that the latest government guidelines for Lent, Holy Week and Easter “clearly allow – with all sanitary rules – to be celebrated in places of worship with the participation of the faithful”.
The latest coronavirus government guidance for England states that communal worship or prayer can be attended by as many people as the place of worship can safely accommodate – but worshippers should maintain social distancing from anyone not from their own household or support bubble.
It also states that people should leave promptly after prayers and worship and should not mingle with each other following a service.