Oxford City Council apologises after Passion Play it 'mistook for live sex show' is cancelled

The Cowley Road Passion Play was called off because officials thought it might cause 'offence'

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The Independent Online

A council has apologised after a Good Friday Passion Play was cancelled because a councillor reportedly thought it was a live sex show.

The plug was pulled on The Cowley Road Passion Play when an official from Oxford City Council said organisers from St Mary and John church and St Stephens House college could be committing an offence without the proper council permits.

Oxford City Councillor and United Reform Church pastor Dick Wolff told the Oxford Mail: “Unfortunately, one of the city council’s licensing officers didn’t recognise that a Passion play on Good Friday was a religious event.

“I think he thought it was a sex show, so he said it may be committing an offence.”

Organisers expressed their “great disappointment and frustration” at the “intractable situation” after the play was called off on 12 April, less than a week before it was due to be performed.

The community performance of the Passion of Christ, which details the suffering and death of Jesus at the crucifixion, was last held in 2012 without a licence.

The council’s licensing team leader, Julian Alison, said he was sorry this year's event had been cancelled, the Oxford Times reported.

“I would like to apologise for a wrong decision that I made late on Friday afternoon in relation to the planned Passion Play on Cowley Road,” he said.

“At the time of processing the application, I did not appreciate that this was a religious event.

“I made a mistake and by the time I realised my mistake, the organisers had cancelled the event. I apologise to the organisers of the event and those members of the public who had been looking forward to the event.

“The council encourages community events to take place and it is deeply regrettable that this has occurred. Such a mistake will not happen again.”

A city council spokesman said: “As far as we are aware the organisers did not question the decision at a higher level within the organisation.”

Speaking on Good Friday, the organisers said: "We are disappointed that the Passion Play is not going ahead on Cowley Road this year, and that we are unable to witness to our faith today in a way that we feel touches the lives of many people.

"There have been unfortunate misunderstandings, but we remain committed to working with the council in the future to ensure that the play can return to the streets of Oxford.”