United Kingdom

Shocked pastor wins an apology after nine police officers stormed his church

Daniel Mateola, 49, had to abandon his congregation in the ‘sinister’ incident at the Kingdom Faith Church in Milton Keynes last week

Nine police officers raided a church and shut down a perfectly legal online service after mistakenly accusing the pastor of breaching coronavirus laws.

Daniel Mateola, 49, had to abandon his congregation in the ‘sinister’ incident at the Kingdom Faith Church in Milton Keynes last week.

In a frightening move, officers later turned up on his doorstep to threaten court action after repeatedly refusing to believe he was operating within the lockdown rules.

It is believed that Pastor Mateola is the first religious leader to have faced prosecution under the UK coronavirus laws.

However, in a victory for freedom of religion, the police force admitted it was a ‘mistake’ and apologised to Mr Mateola after being contacted by The Mail on Sunday.

Speaking of last Friday’s incident, Tory MP Peter Bone, said: ‘I am flabbergasted. 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.’

According to Government regulations updated on November 5 at the start of the second English lockdown, broadcasting an act of worship is allowed but ‘should only involve those people working or volunteering who are essential for the content of the service, and for technical support to enable people to watch and worship online’.

The rules add that if musicians and singers usually form part of that worship they may also participate ‘if they are essential’.

Speaking of last Friday’s incident, Tory MP Peter Bone, pictured, said: ‘I am flabbergasted. This looks like a police state – it’s the sort of thing that would happen in Communist China'

No maximum limit on the number of people is stipulated.

Pastor Mateola was hosting a Men’s Conference, addressing the struggles his male congregants have suffered in the pandemic.

Within the building he also had eight film crew and five musicians, which he said was the minimum needed for his broadcast.

All had been temperature checked and used hand sanitiser on arrival.

A member of the public made a noise complaint and two Thames Valley Police officers turned up around 7pm.

‘I tried to explain to the police that this was an online church service broadcast according to the guidelines but they wouldn’t listen,’ said Pastor Mateola.

He sent the singers home but the police, still not satisfied, shut the service down and called in back-up.

By the time they arrived, there were nine police officers and just five people left in the building.

Pastor Mateola continued: ‘We really appreciate what the police do and our aim as a church is not to attack them.

‘But it was just evident that they didn’t know what the guidelines were. I didn’t think there was any need to call back-up. I found it all quite intimidating.’

He thought the saga had ended there but on Tuesday evening, two officers turned up at his home to warn him he faced court proceedings if he did not pay a fine.

He added: ‘My wife has taken it really badly and my daughter has been asking why the police were at our front door. It’s been a traumatic experience.’

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said it was ‘sinister and almost unbelievable’ that the police turned up at the pastor’s home.

She called on the Government to recognise that the freedom to worship was needed more than ever during the pandemic.

It was a week after the incident when Pastor Mateola was informed there would be no further action.

Chief Superintendent Robert France, Gold Commander for Thames Valley Police’s response to coronavirus, said: ‘It appears... there has been a misunderstanding by our officers of the legislation in place in what is an ever-changing and complex area of enforcement.’

He added: ‘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.’

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