Cars drive down the aisle and into a row

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CHRIS ARNOT

A row over plans to mark the centenary of the birth of the mass-produced motor car is casting a shadow over a service at Coventry Cathedral this week which will be a celebration of the car.

Captains of the British motor industry arriving on Wednesday for the controversial religious service are likely to come bumper to bumper with victims of road accidents.

Road Peace, which campaigns on behalf of those bereaved and injured by the car, is planning a silent vigil outside the cathedral during the service, which they argue will turn the cathedral into a "sanctified car showroom". The centrepiece is expected to be two cars driven down the aisle.

The group's request to lay a wreath in the ruins of the old cathedral has been turned down by the cathedral Provost, Canon John Petty, on the grounds that it would be too "political". While not wishing to impede lawful demonstrations, he has asked them to stay away from the ruins, or elsewhere in the cathedral precincts. "Nor do we feel able to provide any facilities to assist them, as this would be discourteous to those we are welcoming here," he says in a letter to the organisation.

A Road Peace spokeswoman, Brigitte Chaudhry, said: "I think that is discourteous to us ... Millions of people have been killed or maimed by the car in the past 100 years. Coventry Cathedral recognised that with a service for traffic victims in 1992. Now it plans to drive two cars up the aisle. I don't think it's appropriate."

Environmental campaigners are also planning to picket the motor centenary service, which will be attended by Prince Michael of Kent. West Midland Friends of the Earth will also be at the demonstration and has not been appeased by assurances that one of the vehicles to be driven up the aisle will be an electrically powered Peugeot.

"Electric cars would lead to an improvement in local emissions, but they would add to pollution around power stations," the senior national campaigner, Roger Higman, said.

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