Christian Concern says Thames Valley Police have apologised after accusing a Milton Keynes pastor of breaking Covid-19 restrictions, despite him only holding an online church broadcast.
Chief Superintendent Robert France, Head of Department for Governance and Service Improvement at Thames Valley Police, 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."
On Friday 20th November, two police officers demanded access to The Kingdom Faith Church, a Pentecostal church in Milton Keynes, after reports of loud music.
Daniel Mateola, 49, the UK leader of Kingdom Faith Ministries International was holding a men's conference which was broadcasting online to members of his congregation. Christian Concern founder Pastor Ade Omooba was one of the speakers at the conference in a separate session.
Government guidance says church leaders can broadcast to their congregation online from their buildings and can work with support staff, such as singers and sound engineers, that it judges are essential to the running of the service with no limit placed on that number, although it advises as minimum as possible.
Daniel Mateola, Twitter
Pastor Mateola apparently tried to show the officers the government guidance on his laptop, but they refused to look.
When he said that what the church was doing was legal, the officer called in for more support and a further seven police officers were reportedly called to the scene.
Both officers then began to tell Mateola how he should hold the service and said he only needed two people in the building: "one to speak and one to hold the phone and record."
The officers claimed there were 30 people in the building, but Pastor Mateola said there was half this amount, each with a specific role as part of the online broadcast and each in separate rooms socially distancing.
After an hour of disruption, the service ended and support staff left.
On Tuesday 24th November, Christian Concern claim two police officers from Thames Valley police came to Pastor Mateola's house and notified him that he would be prosecuted for breaking Covid-19 regulations, stating:
"I am here to tell you that you are going to be formerly reported to court for what happened - you do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something you later rely on in court. You will receive something in the post to tell you what happens next."
Pastor Mateola responded saying: "You have totally disregarded government guidelines, I kept showing them to you but you said it didn't matter and you were going to go ahead whatever the sergeant said. I complied with you, you totally destroyed everything we were trying to do with the broadcast, you didn't even know the guidelines and we have ended up being harassed for no reason."
One of the officers is said to have replied: "you have broken coronavirus regulations - the music was blaring out loud."
Pastor Mateola said: "This is becoming a nightmare, I'm a reverend...we have over 4,000 followers who cannot go to church, there has been so much unnecessary harassment but there is no negativity against you as officers, we love you and we thank you for what you do in the community."
Speaking after the apology, Pastor Mateola said: "I am relieved that the police have recognised 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."