Following the acquittal of two Sikh protesters by a Birmingham Crown Court jury, leading Sikh organisations are calling for an inquiry into how the arrests led to a trial.
The case was stated by lawyer, Talbir Singh as being “the largest hammer you will ever see to crack the smallest nut”, leading to the Sikh Council UK calling for a meeting with Warwickshire police, whilst the Sikh Federation UK called for an investigation into the “massive over-reaction”.
The trial came after 55 protesters were detained by armed police at Gurdwara Sahib Leamington Spa on September 11 2016. Two of those protesters, Kulvinder Bir Singh and Gursharan Singh, were accused of pulling an official’s tie and taking down laminated signs inside the gurdwara. Both were acquitted yesterday afternoon.
Sikh Youth UK, a community group largely most associated with the protest having been first to share news of it said in a statement on Facebook, “It is clear to see a situation where the management committee of the Gurdwara Sahib have used their personal links with the Police and politicians to serve their joint objectives. This was demonstrated numerous times including the interview of Superintendent David Gardner of Warwickshire Police who discussed the case on television prior to a full investigation, charges or proceedings.
“In addition to the massive costs for the unwarranted and unnecessarily exaggerated response by Warwickshire Police, the additional costs of malicious allegations and Court proceedings are a cost which will be borne unfairly by the taxpayer.
“Reacting to the Court outcome, calls are being made from the Sikh community across the UK for the management committee of Gurdwara Sahib Leamington & Warwick to stand down. Furthermore an independent investigation into the actions of Warwickshire Police in relation to the whole affair is being demanded.”
Sikh Council UK Head of Policy, Strategy and Legal Affairs Gurmel Singh Kandola said “We have a number of ongoing concerns, including the nature of briefings and meetings prior to the incident between police and Gurdwara representatives, the disproportionate policing operation on the day in question with the use of armed officers, the subsequent legal processes and charges pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service, the media appearances undertaken by police officers during the course of the matter and the inconsistencies with which counter-complaints were handled”.
He added “We are seeking meetings to discuss our concerns and the way forward so Warwickshire Police and other police forces do not make the same mistakes again. The sensational reporting of the matter following the events of the day has caused significant reputational damage to the community and we wish to ensure lessons are learnt going forward.”
Commenting on the case, Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the UK’s Sikh Federation, said: ‘We welcome the unanimous decision of jurors to acquit the two brothers and feel vindicated as we have said all along these prosecutions were totally unnecessary.
‘This was a lawful, peaceful protest where Warwickshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service appear to have been given incorrect and false information by members of the Leamington Gurdwara management committee.
‘There should be an independent investigation as this incident at that time brought the law-abiding Sikh community into serious disrepute with a massive over-reaction with armed police being deployed on the anniversary of 9/11.’
Jasveer Singh of the Sikh Press Association also stated that media coverage of the issue only helped to fuel the unnecessary push for prosecution. “When the news of the protest came out, news outlets like the Daily Mirror and Sky News reported claimed protesters were ‘sword-wielding’ and had ‘stormed’ the Gurdwara, painting a completely enflamed image of what had actually happened. The quotes were not even attributed to anyone.
“It is hard for us to believe that both police and media did not know that initiated Sikhs will always carry a small sword, and do so every single day in schools, in parliament and in hospitals. What we do recognise though is that both the media and government authorities are unaware of the fractious relationship some Sikh communities can have with Gurdwara committees that flout Sikh protocol.
“Last year Coventry Telegraph published a news article claiming Sikhs were promoting ISIS propaganda in a Gurdwara, based on a claim by one single committee member of Guru Nanak Parkash Gurdwara. This heinous accusation was quickly removed from the story once members of the local community came forward to speak against the ridiculous accusation.
“This is yet again clear evidence that the media and government authorities – whether it be the police or charities commission – need to do more to speak to connect with the Sikh community, to avoid those with their own agenda leading them down a costly path.”