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UK police apologize to pastor after storming church during legal online service broadcast

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The Union flag flies in front of the Clock face on the Queen Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben on April 2, 2019, in London, England. |

Police in the United Kingdom have apologized to an African pastor after he was accused last week of breaking COVID-19 regulations as he held a virtual service.

Thames Valley police officers apologized after they stormed into a Pentecostal Church called Kingdom Faith Ministries International Church in Milton Keynes, a town approximately 50 miles northwest of London in Buckinghamshire, according to the BBC.

Pastor Daniel Mateola was hosting a broadcast service in his church being streamed to 150 online members when the authorities arrived on the scene following reports of loud music.

When Mateola attempted to tell the police that he was operating his house of worship in keeping with relevant government guidelines and that what he and his team were doing was legal, seven additional cops were called. The pastor said the officers "escalated" the situation beyond what was reasonable and that it traumatized his wife and children.

"We really appreciate what the police do and our aim as a church is not to attack them," Mateola said, according to the Daily Mail.

"But it was just evident that they didn’t know what the guidelines were. I didn’t think there was any need to call back-up. I found it all quite intimidating."

Authorities went to his home and told him four days later that he was going to be prosecuted for violating the coronavirus rules.

Robert France, an official from the force's coronavirus response team, said that the intervention with Mateola amounted to "a misunderstanding by our officers of the legislation in place in what is an ever-changing and complex area of enforcement."

"There has been a mistake in the issuing of this ticket and I would like to apologize for the distress I know this is likely to have caused."

Peter Bone, a Tory member of the British Parliament, said the police action left him "flabbergasted."

"This looks like a police state — it’s the sort of thing that would happen in Communist China. You would think those police officers might have better things to do than persecute someone doing an online service," he said.

In a statement following the police apology, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mateola, said if someone had said at the beginning of the year that by November the police would be interpreting and enforcing government rules which involved closing down legal broadcasts from a church and prosecuting a pastor, nobody would have believed them.

“Yet this is the current reality for church leaders seeking to legally function and faithfully serve their congregation and communities in need under government covid-19 regulations," Williams said.

“It is astonishing and disturbing in its own right to see nine police officers breaking up a church broadcast and treating its leader with such disrespect. But to then turn up unannounced at Pastor Mateola’s family home and prosecute him, is sinister and almost unbelievable.

“The wider issue and principle at stake is that the forced closure of churches and interference by the secular government violates centuries of constitutional tradition. The church serves at the heart of our public life and as well as seeking to meet the physical needs of many it exists to bring the Good News and hope of Jesus Christ in the middle of a national crisis."

The United Kingdom has been in a national lockdown since Nov. 5 and the policy is set to expire on Wednesday. The next set of COVID-19 rules will be a tiered system, with some regions of the nation under more restrictions than others.

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