POLICE have been accused for overreacting to a protest at the Sikh temple in Leamington which saw 55 men arrested.
Armed officers were called to the Gurdwara on Tachbrook Park Drive next to Leamington Shopping Park just before 7am on Sunday (September 11).
It followed reports up to 30 men had burst into the temple – some supposedly armed with swords – unhappy at an interfaith marriage which was set to take place.
The surrounding roads were cordoned off for most of the day while officers and religious leaders went into the building in an attempt to negotiate with protesters.
Police arrested 55 men aged between 17 and 39 on suspicion of aggravated trespass following the incident but they have since been released on bail.
The Sikh Youth UK group issued a statement afterwards saying it had staged a ‘peaceful protest’ in objection to an interfaith marriage that was to be carried out as a Sikh marriage at the venue.
It explained more than 300 Sikh organisations had approved a resolution last year agreeing temples would no longer offer a Sikh marriage for an interfaith couple.
In the statement, the group hit out at members of the Gurdwara Sahib – saying claims armed men had taken over the building were misleading and Sikhs entering the temple would have been carrying their ceremonial daggers – or Kirpans – as a matter of course.
The incident also saw the police come under fire from the group Sikh 2 Inspire over the force’s armed response.
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.”
But Warwickshire Police were quick to defend their actions.
Supt David Gardner 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. Nobody was injured.”
He added the police would be working with the Sikh community to address some of the issues that had culminated in these events.
Members of the Sikh temple have since apologised to residents in Leamington and Warwick, via a short statement to the BBC, for the disruption caused by road closures as a result of the protest.
It is understood the marriage eventually went ahead at another venue later on the same day.