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Police visit Birmingham church's Sunday service over coronavirus concerns

by Chantalle Edmunds

West Midlands Police have confirmed to Premier that uniformed officers attended a church in Birmingham after concerns were raised about the number of worshippers and coronavirus restrictions.

Police said they received a call from a member of the public on Sunday "reporting a large number of vehicles and people attending The Rock New Testament Church of God at Spring Hill. The caller stated that there were over 50 people in the church."

Officers found "no issues or breaches" following the service and added in a statement that "the church were correctly implementing the necessary Covid compliant requirements including social distancing and face coverings being worn."

Danny Webster, head of public policy at the Envangelical Alliance told Premier he was surprised by the visit:

"Partly because the legal restrictions on churches are actually very minimal, there are quite now strict legal restrictions on many other venues in terms of closing times, what they can do, what they can't do, what they have got to put in place."

"I think it would be uncomfortable and it would be challenging. I would encourage churches to be open about what they are doing and how they are seeking to abide by both the legal restrictions and the guidelines and have a constructive conversation with the police."

In England, churches do not have a cap on the number of worshippers that can attend services the rules are based on size of building and social distancing.

Churches are legally required to carry out a risk assessment and everyone in the congregation has to wear a face mask; people at the front who are leading or reading in the service are exempt. Everything else, including maintaining social distancing, is advisory.

Danny Webster told Premier that the police seem to be "taking a stronger hand in terms of how they are enforcing the coronavirus rules." 

He added that the police are in a challenging situation as the regulations aren't straightforward and that is important for both police and church to be fully informed on what the guidance says:

"I would be worried about police shutting down services certainly if it is on the basis of a minor infringement around a risk assessment, that would be an over eager exercise of their powers...if there are problems in how a church is operating I would want to see the police acting in a way that encourages compliance rather than resorting to legal enforcement but I think there are situations where churches could be forced to close down if they are operating in ways that are considered unsafe by the Health and Safety Executive."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a statement to Premier:

A spokesperson said: "Where the enforcing authority, such as the HSE or a local authority, identifies venues who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, they are empowered to take a range of actions to improve control of venue risks."

While Premier contacted the Rock Church, leaders didn't wish to comment.

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