Nigerian church accuses UK of malicious persecution
A London-based church, Victorious Pentecostal Assembly (VPA), headed by Nigerian-born pastor protested the persecution and attempts to force its closure by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in the United Kingdom.
To express its grievances with the British authorities, the pastor, Alex Omokudu, led 300 members of the church to stage a protest march and delivered a letter to the Prime Minister’s office.
The protest came a few weeks after the council lost a landmark criminal case against the church.
In a statement made available to The AUTHORITY in Abuja, Omokudu said that VPA, founded in 2002, has a multinational membership.
Omokudu, who led the protest to No. 10 Downing Street, the seat of the UK’s government, decried the “hounding of a Christian church in a country with a Christian heritage.”
In the letter to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, titled: “Intimidation and Persecution of Our Church by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham,” Omokudu said that the church was constrained to draw to her notice the orchestrated campaign of intimidation and persecution launched against the church by the council in an attempt to force it out of the borough.
He said: “We are a Christian Pentecostal Church focused on deliverance and welfare intervention in the lives of members of the community. We run active programmes to reform youths and adults who have fallen foul of the law and need a new direction in life. Our London church congregation number about 5,000 but our followership worldwide runs into hundreds of thousands. We are also reach millions more through the Believe TV, our media outreach arm. Apart from our religious role, the location of the headquarters of the church in London generates tourism income for the country as worshippers from Africa, Europe and America visit the United Kingdom to attend our programmes. We have been worshipping at Barking since 2006.
“In 2014, the council, without any provocation, launched a campaign of intimidation against our church. In a series of actions, the council went after our financial viability and as well created a hostile operating environment. A few cases will suffice:
“The council launched a malicious prosecution against the church and its officers despite advice from the Metropolitan Police and the Health and Safety Executive. The allegations arose following a tragic and fatal accident involving Mr. Kenneth Burnett on 31st October 2012. He had gone onto the roof of the church, without prior knowledge or permission, allegedly to effect repairs. Mr Burnett suffered fatal injuries and never recovered despite being flown by Air Ambulance to hospital. The Metropolitan Police Service and the Health and Safety Executive investigated the incident, and decided not to pursue the matter further, due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Nonetheless, the Council’s Health and Safety Department introduced criminal proceedings on seven counts of corporate manslaughter and breach of health and safety regulations. The case collapsed on June 26, 2017 at Snaresbrook Crown Court. The case was dismissed by the trial judge who asked the jury to enter a not guilty verdict against the defendants on all charges.
“As part of its strategy to squeeze the church financially, the council increased the ground rent of our place of worship by 1,232 per cent, from £6,250 per annum to £77,000. As if this was not punitive enough, it backdated it for three years, landing the church with a bill of £213,000. We made a reasonable offer to pay by instalments but this was declined. This has weakened the church’s finances.
“In 2015, our church rented No 12 Thames Road to accommodate the increase in membership. The intention was to eventually buy the property. We applied for planning permission, which the council turned down and issued an enforcement notice. We appealed this notice to the Secretary of State, who overturned the council’s decision and granted us the permission to use the property as a place of worship,” he said.
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