by James Scott
The parish priest of St Mary’s in Ashford has said he was “deeply saddened” after police were called to escort a protester from the church.
An officer was called after bellringer Chris Cooper, who was dressed as a vicar, began shouting over members at the annual parochial church meeting.
Mr Cooper, 34, was warned he was in danger of breaching the peace and escorted from the church meeting, which was attended by around 50 people.
Speaking afterwards on behalf of the church council and the congregation, Canon Colin Preece said: “We are all very deeply saddened that we felt we were left with no alternative but to ask the police to attend our meeting.
“A person was repeatedly asked in a polite manner to leave the meeting, which he had no right to attend, but would not do so.
“He continued to cause a disturbance and his behaviour left members of the congregation, including young children and the elderly, feeling threatened and upset.
“A prayer was said at the meeting for the person concerned immediately after he left and members of the congregation do regularly pray for the wellbeing of this member of our church family.”
Mr Cooper, who lives at the Church Yard, said his protest was about the Sir John Fogge helmet - described as a priceless treasure - which he said had gone missing from the church. The church said the helmet is in storage.
Canon Colin Preece of St Mary's Church, Ashford
He was also unhappy at being told he could not attend the meeting because his application to be included on the church electoral roll was late.
Mr Cooper said: “They just didn’t want me present at a meeting calling them to account.
“I said that I would read the Commination Service from the Book of Common Prayer 1662, which is a denouncement of God’s anger against impenitent sinners, loudly over the top of the meeting to prevent their conducting business.
“At this point the priest in charge (Colin Preece) went and called the police.
“When he returned, he began the meeting as I boomed out the Commination Service above the business, drowning it out as best as possible.”
Mr Cooper added he took the decision to leave with the police sergeant in order to save police time.
Kent Police said no further action would be taken.
Spokesman Jane Walker said: “As he agreed to leave there will be no further action.”