All but one of the “bladed weapons” seized after an incident at a Sikh temple which sparked a mass arrest were ceremonial, police have said.
Armed officers surrounded the Gurdwara Temple in Leamington Spa on Sunday after reports that between 20 and 30 men had entered the building, many armed with blades.
Some 55 people were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and a “significant number of bladed weapons” were seized, Warwickshire police said earlier on Sunday.
The force later confirmed that the majority of these were Kirpans - one of the five physical symbols of faith worn by Sikhs.
A spokesman for Warwickshire Police said: “Officers responded to an initial report a group of masked men, initially thought to be around 20 in number, forcing their way into the Gurdwara Temple. These were reported to be carrying a range of bladed items, some of which were initially described as not being for ceremonial use. Officers assessed the situation and responded accordingly.
“Blades seized so far have been ceremonial. Another non-ceremonial weapon was seized. This is an ongoing investigation and we will be investigating the initial claim that other weapons were involved.”
Pressure group the Sikh Federation has accused the police of over-reacting to the incident and called on the police to apologise.
In a post on Facebook, the group said: “We condemn the over reaction by the police and the disgraceful and inexcusable behaviour by the Management Committee at Leamington Gurdwara that have unashamedly brought the law-abiding Sikh community into disrepute by fuelling false and sensationalised media reports.”
It added: “It now materialises the police were told masked men forced their way into the Gurdwara carrying a range of bladed items other than Kirpans, that are worn at all times by Amritdhari or initiated Sikhs and it may have been suggested they were holding hostages. The police have now admitted those protesting simply walked into the Gurdwara in the early hours and they have only found small Kirpans that were being legitimately worn by Amritdhari or initiated Sikh protesters. The police should either apologise to the Sikh community for the disproportionate response or take strong action against those who provided false information and wasted police time and resources by exaggerating the seriousness of the situation.
“One media outlet has used the headline: ‘sword-wielding gang storm Sikh temple’. However, this could not be further from the truth. The protesters were respectful and peaceful at all times in the Gurdwara from video footage from inside the Gurdwara. CCTV footage will show they simply walked into the Gurdwara in the early hours and none of them were ‘wielding’ swords.
“This was a small group of young protesters who justifiably objected to an interfaith marriage that was to be carried out as a Sikh religious ceremony or Anand Karaj.”
A statement from Sikh Youth UK said local Sikh youths were peacefully protesting against an interfaith marriage that was to be carried out as a Sikh marriage at the temple, the Press Association reported.
Last year a resolution saying that interfaith couples could not have a Sikh marriage in Gurdwareh was approved at meeting called by the Sikh Council UK and represented by 300 Sikh organisations, Sikh Youth UK said.
Sunday’s protest was an example of a “rogue Gurdwara committee creating discord among the UK Sikh diaspora”, it added.
The statement read: “We are deeply saddened by the way in which the Leamington Gurdwara committee have conducted themselves.
“Local Sikh youth attended the early morning prayers at the Gurdwara and began a sit down peaceful protest by reciting prayers. Seeing that the youth were traditionally dressed and carrying their Kirpans, as Sikhs all over the world do, the committee called the police and falsely reported that “armed men” had taken over the Gurdwara.
“This kind of behaviour alienates Sikh youth from trusting such Gurdwara committees’ ability to resolve the issue an amicable and mature way.”
A cordon was put in place around the temple in Tachbrook Drive at around 6.45am on Sunday.
Eyewitness Perry Phillips, 53, of Leamington Spa, said he believed the protest was against a “mixed marriage ceremony”.
“I was a bit surprised, very surprised,” he added.
“I could see at the entrance to the Gurdwara a lot of people were outside but it was peaceful, there was no shouting or anything.
“It seemed like a peaceful protest.
“There’s a big Sikh community in Leamington Spa and a lot of people were turning up.”
Superintendent David Gardner said earlier on Sunday that the “contained” incident was “an escalation of a local dispute”.
He added:”Over the coming days we will be working with local the Sikh community to address some of the ongoing issues that have culminated in these events.
“We would like to thank local people for their patience while we dealt with this incident.”
Police later said: “Having contained the situation, it became apparent that there were 55 masked men involved all of whom were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass.”