A Catholic Priest is facing a £1,000 fine for breaching Lockdown rules after 200 guests turned up for a gypsy wedding at his church when the legal limit was only 15.
Police entered the Our Lady of the Angels church in Nuneaton to tell Revd Father Simon Hall that he could expect a summons through the post.
The illegal wedding took place on November 3, two days before the country was plunged into its second national lockdown.
Weddings are now only permitted in instances where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover, and only six people are allowed to attend.
Before lockdown, no more than 15 people were allowed to attend a wedding, ‘even where large numbers could be accommodated with social distancing in a Covid-secure venue’, according to the Government’s website.
Police entered the Our Lady of the Angels church in Nuneaton to tell Revd Father Simon Hall that he could expect a summons through the post
Revd Father Simon Hall is facing a £1,000 fine for breaching Lockdown rules after 200 guests turned up for a gypsy wedding at his church
They had been alerted to a large crowd gathering in the grounds of the church set the town centre last Tuesday afternoon and intervened shortly after the nuptials had been completed.
Revd Father Simon Hall, 43, said: ‘It was just such a shock to me. We had arranged for 15 people and this was what we had agreed. This was repeated every time I met them and then on the day it was very different.’
As the hapless priest prepared for the ceremony a cavalcade of cars was winding its way through the streets of the Midlands town, behind a white horse drawn carriage.
Local driver Mandeep Mudhar commented on Facebook: ‘I saw it in town, the couple in a white horse drawn carriage, surrounded by loads of flashy expensive cars blocking the three lanes hooting away and no regard to traffic lights or other cars.
‘About six cars crossed a t junction without looking left or right and we all had to stop as they had no intention of stopping.
‘There must have been at least 50 in the cars etc Bentley, expensive range rovers, souped up people carriers. Unbelievable.’
Revd Father Simon Hall, 43, said: ‘It was just such a shock to me. We had arranged for 15 people and this was what we had agreed. This was repeated every time I met them and then on the day it was very different’
The Revd Father Hall only learned of the problem when it was too late.
‘When the bride arrived I knew there were too many,’ he said, ‘but what could I do? I just wanted to get through it as quickly as I could.’
He had just completed the ceremony and the guests had left the church when the police descended.
‘The next thing I knew, I was fully vested in church and the police came in,’ he said.
What are the rules on weddings?
Before the country went into its second national lockdown, 15 people were allowed to attend a wedding.
The Government’s guidelines state: ‘By law no more than 15 people can attend any marriage or civil partnership ceremony, even where large numbers could be accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 secure venue.
’15 is the maximum number for all attendees at the event, including the couple and guests.
‘Anyone working is not included as part of the legal limit.’
Now that the country is in a national lockdown, weddings are not allowed to take place unless one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover.
In those situations, six people are allowed to attend the wedding.
They had not given him any paperwork but told him to expect a summons through the post containing a fine that he could either pay or challenge at Magistrates’ court.
He said: ‘The last thing I am is a lockdown sceptic. We have been working very hard during the entire process to make the church Covid-safe.’
He said that he was still waiting for his summons to arrive through the post. There was sympathy for the priest from local users of the Nuneaton and Bedworth Police Facebook page.
Arthur Kelly who lives in the town and attends the church, said: ‘It’s sad that the police would rather target a victim than go after the criminal but we keep seeing such things over and over.’
Another local church member Helen Oulton Doris wrote: ‘They do like to shoot themselves in the foot. They won’t go after the travellers and probably say it’s about a lack of manpower and cutbacks. The priest is the easy target…..so well done Nuneaton Police. Another non-crime solved.’
A spokeswoman for Warwickshire Police said: ‘Shortly after 3pm on Tuesday (3 November), police were called to reports of a wedding involving a large number of people at a church on Coton Road, Nuneaton.
‘Officers attended and dispersed the crowd. A 43-year-old man has been reported for summons for breaching Covid regulations.
‘We’re aware of this incident and an investigation has been launched. Enquiries are ongoing and we would ask anyone with any information or footage to please make contact.’
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Birmingham said: ‘In light of public health guidance, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales have provided guidance on all aspects of Church life, including weddings. The parish has been following these guidelines with appropriate measures in place to help prevent the spread of infection.
‘On this occasion, despite the parish stating that only 15 people can be present at a wedding, many more attended. Attempts made by the parish to remove the crowd were unsuccessful and police intervened.
‘The Archdiocese and the parish are committed to following the latest Government guidelines as and when they are issued and do not condone large gatherings of this kind.
‘Warwickshire Police are now investigating this matter. Witnesses are asked to contact them with any information.’