Sikhs raise concerns over protest response at Leamington temple

Police cars near the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington when the incident happened
Police cars near the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington when the incident happened

Sikhs have raised concerns about the actions of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and members of their own community in the aftermath of  an incident at the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington which led to arrests and court proceedings.

The Sikh Heritage Association of Warwick and Leamington (SHAWL) has questioned why the police needed to arrest 55 men who were staging, what it has said, was a peaceful protest which took place during an inter-faith wedding at the temple on September 11, 2016.

The arrests led to an investigation from which Gursharan Singh from Coventry was charged with with religiously aggravated common assault and assault by beating; and his brother Kulvinder Singh, also from Coventry, was charged with religiously aggravated damage to property and destroying property before both men were found not guilty of these charges following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court earlier this month.

This week a spokesman from SHAWL said: “After the acquittal of the only two defendants charged from the 55 arrested at the protest at the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington, members of the congregation are left wondering if the response from the police was proportionate and whether the case should have been pursued by CPS.

“The cost to the taxpayer must run into hundreds of thousands.

“In mitigation the protest was on September 11, whilst a very significant date to many, but of little relevance to the congregation.

“This was a lawful and peaceful protest, where Warwickshire Police and subsequently Crown Prosecution Service acted on misleading and false information. The incident at the time brought the law-abiding Sikh community into serious disrepute with a massive over reaction with armed police being deployed.

“It must have been very apparent to those responding from the police very early on that this was not a terrorist incident as was being reported in the media. A scaling down of the response could have taken place and saved a significant expense to the taxpayer.

“It is important for all concerned to investigate the disproportionality of the response and learn for the future. Community cohesion is not helped when what now was found to be a peaceful and legitimate protest is dealt with such force.”

The Crown Prosecution Service said that, having reviewed the evidence provided by Warwickshire Police following the incident, it applied the Code for Crown Prosecutors and decided that there was sufficient evidence and that it was in the public interest to charge the two defendants.

And Superintendent Andy Nolan of Warwickshire Police said: “We recognise how difficult the events at the Gurdwara in September 2016 were for the local community. We value the Sikh community in Warwickshire and continue to recognise the importance of a good relationship.

"It is important to provide reassurance to the local Sikh community and address any concerns they have. We welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives to discuss these.”

Philip Seccombe, Warwickshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has also said that he would like to discuss the issues surrounding the incident with Sikh community representatives .

Mr Seccombe said: “I hope this will be constructive and will also provide Warwickshire Police with a further opportunity to provide reassurance about their commitment to good relations with the Sikh community."

***

When Gursharan Singh and Kulvinder Bir Singh from Coventry were cleared at Birmingham Crown Court of any wrongdoing in relation to arrests made at the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington in September 2016, the court heard how they were part of a group of Sikh men who were protesting against alleged misuse of funds at the temple.

Shortly after the incident the Gurdwara committee released a statement apologising to the people of Leamington and Warwick for the disruption and claiming the group had forced its way into the building with the intention of stopping the inter-faith marriage between a Sikh woman and Hindu man which was taking place at the time.

The committee said at the time: “If this group has extreme views on marriages they need to do this in a lawful way, not covering their faces and dictating what should happen within the Gurdwara Sahib.

“As we have stated, this is a matter for the police. From a Leamington and Warwick Gurdwara Sahib perspective, we live in a very pleasant town with a multi-cultural outlook which has helped us live peacefully for many years. A group such as this will not spoil our relations with any person, whatever their creed, colour or race within our Leamington and Warwick community or further afield.”

But in closing speeches to the jury during the court case this month, counsel for both men said there was no evidence the protesters were even aware the wedding was taking place and that there was no evidence that the protest was motivated by any hostility towards a religious group.