FIFTY-FIVE people have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass following an incident at the Gurdwara Temple in Leamington over the weekend.
Police were called to the Sikh temple on Tachbrook Park Drive next to Leamington Shopping Park just before 7am on Sunday following reports up to 30 men had burst in – some reportedly armed with swords – apparently unhappy at a mixed marriage which was set to take place.
Armed officers and religious leaders went into the building to negotiate with the men while the surrounding roads were cordoned off.
A Warwickshire Police spokesman said: “Officers responded to a report of a group of masked men – initially thought to be around 20 in number – forcing their way into the Gurdwara Temple.
“These were reported to be carrying a range of bladed items some of which were initially described as not being for ceremonial use. Officers assessed the situation and responded accordingly.
“Having contained the situation, it became apparent there were 55 masked men involved – all of whom were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass. Blades seized so far have been ceremonial. Another non-ceremonial weapon was seized.
“This is an ongoing investigation and we will be investigating the initial report other weapons were involved.”
A former treasurer at the temple told the BBC a marriage between a Sikh and non-Sikh couple had been due to take place.
He said mixed marriages had been a contentious issue in the local Sikh community with a minority opposing the temple being used for such services.
Supt David Gardner added: “We would like to reassure people this was a contained incident that we believe to be an escalation of a local dispute.
“Following reports the men were in possession of weapons, we deployed armed officers as a precaution. Nobody was injured.
“Over the coming days we will be working with the Sikh community to address some of the ongoing issues that have culminated in these events.
“We would like to thank people for their patience while we dealt with the incident.”
But the group Sikh 2 Inspire hit out at the police and media for “misunderstanding the situation.”
A statement on the group’s Facebook page read: “Our sacred Kirpan has been repeatedly described as a bladed weapon and armed police have been called out on peaceful protestors.
“They don’t have have an appropriate understanding of the Sikh community.
“The peaceful protests are about non-Sikhs undertaking a Sikh religious ceremony in a Gurdwara, which is not line with Sikh protocol.
“The Anand Karaj (Sikh wedding ceremony) is one of a number of religious ceremonies in a Sikh’s life, including birth, initiation and death – each of these is built about Sikh practice, belief, hymns.
“If someone from a Sikh family wishes to marry someone from another faith, that is their personal matter, but the religious ceremonies require both parties to be Sikh.
“Where this is not the case, the couple are invited to undertake any other ceremony they wish.
“The arrests and police response were totally unnecessary and the press have widely over-reacted with language used to provoke and intimidate readers.
“The disproportionate response to peaceful Sikh protest compared to other protests has not been lost on the Sikhs.”