Leamington Spa temple occupied by armed men in protest 'against marriage of Sikh and Muslim'

'There have been tensions that have been going on for a couple of years'

Adam Withnall
Sunday 11 September 2016 14:46
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Sikhs protest at wedding in Leamington

Up to 55 masked men occupied the entrance to a Sikh temple in Leamington Spa in what appears to have been a protest against an interfaith marriage between a Sikh and a Muslim.

Warwickshire Police said those involved were arrested after an eight-hour standoff, and a "significant number" of bladed weapons were confiscated from the scene.

The incident began at around 6.45am on Sunday morning, when a group of young men - intially reported to number between 20 and 30 - entered the gurdwara on Tachbrook Drive and sat down, refusing to leave.

Police described the men as having “bladed items”, in what is believed to be a reference to the ceremonial daggers carried by Sikh men, and later said a "significant number" of such items were confiscated during the arrests.

On social media, some protesters objected to media descriptions of the group as "armed" based on the fact they were carrying the ceremonial items.

But in a statement after the protest had been cleared, police said at least one "non-ceremonial weapon" was also seized. "This is an ongoing investigation and we will be investigating the initial report that other weapons were involved," a spokesman said.

Around three hours into the standoff, a group identifying itself as Sikh Youth Birmingham posted a video on Facebook apparently from inside the temple, showing men sat on the floor, many with hoods up, chanting and raising placards.

Another video showed wedding guests waiting outside the temple, where more protesters had also assembled.

Jatinder Singh Birdi, a former treasurer at the temple, confirmed a marriage had been due to take place in the temple on Sunday morning between a Sikh and non-Sikh.

He told the BBC: "There have been tensions that have been going on for a couple of years with some people objecting to mixed marriages taking place in the gurdwara," he said.

"The general consensus is people are respectful of mixed marriages if the traditions are respected.

"Nothing has happened on this level before.

"This is meant to be one of the happiest moments of somebody's life - it shows a lack of respect.”

Sikh Youth Birmingham claimed to have up to 100 people involved in the protest, both inside and outside the gurdwara.

One protester broadcast a Facebook Live video from among the wedding guests at the gate, where tensions were clearly high.

At one point, the man filming can be heard saying: “These lot don’t even know that I’m against them”, and at another he points the camera towards the temple, saying: “Leamington Gurdwara, allowing interfaith marriages. Sikhs and Muslims, it’s messed up.”

Some on social media questioned the use of armed officers in response to a peaceful protest. Warwickshire Police said officers "assessed the situation and responded accordingly".

Superintendent David Gardner said: "We would like to reassure people that this was a contained incident that we believe was an escalation of a local dispute.

"A significant number of bladed weapons were seized from the scene. As a result of reports that the men were in possession of these weapons we deployed armed officers as a precaution. Nobody was injured in the incident.

"Over the coming days we will be working with local the Sikh community to address some of the ongoing issues that have culminated in today's events.

"We would like to thank local people for their patience while we dealt with this incident."

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