Police apologise to minister after shutting down legal church service in Milton Keynes

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Police have apologised to a church minister after officers interrupted a lawful service in Milton Keynes and told him he would be prosecuted for breaking Covid regulations.

Pastor Daniel Mateola normally preaches to a full church, but since communal worship is banned under Covid rules, his congregation gets support from online worship instead.

Services are filmed professionally and streamed online, but last Friday worship was interrupted by the police who said there were too many people present.

Police arrive at the church in Milton Keynes after a report from a member of the public.

To avoid confrontation, the church sent their five musicians home but police said the film crew was too big and called seven more officers as back up.

Pastor Daniel said: "It was very challenging, very intimidating, at one point a little bit scary too. At one point I was thinking, what's going on here?

"I did go into my office and get my laptop. I went on the government website and I looked for the page where it showed the guidelines, where it says this is what we are allowed to do."

Pastor Daniel has been broadcasting services online during the lockdown. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Even more stress was to come. Officers turned up two days later at Pastor Daniel's family home to tell him he would be charged with an offence.

Pastor Daniel said: "I felt I was being treated more like a night club owner rather than the minister of the gospel and a reverend and there was such a lack of understanding."

Pastor Daniel's church had not in fact broken any Covid rules and the police are now in the process of cancelling the ticket against him.

Chief Superintendent Robert France, from Thames Valley Police, said: "Our officers have been engaging with the public to ensure that our communities are kept safe from Coronavirus.

"It appears in this case that there has been a misunderstanding by our officers of the legislation in place in what is an ever-changing and complex area of enforcement.

"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"This incident was reviewed earlier this week and the ticket is in the process of being rescinded and the party involved has been updated.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 Daniel says he accepts the apology and his church fully supports the police in their work serving the community. He has only gone public to try and raise awareness of peoples' right to worship.