15th October 2013
By Alexandra Rucki
Violence erupted at the re-consecration of a church as a long-running rift between rival worshippers saw a protest turn ugly.
Police arrested five people as the protest, which had begun on Saturday escalated to all out combat on Sunday outside the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, in St Philip Street, Battersea
It is believed the dispute, ongoing for 10 months, is over the election of trustees to run the church.
The church closed in April this year to clear the air and was reconsecrated on the weekend by two bishops who flew over from Ethiopia.
Police brought in extra offices and instructed Transport for London (TfL) to close part of the road during the protest, but fighting broke out behind the building following a peaceful ceremony attended by 200 worshippers.
Tewodros Gebru was charged with assault and intent of robbery, Dawrit Girmay was charged with affray and assaulting a police officer and Ammanuel Kidane for affray and assaulting a police officer.
Another man has been arrested for affray, while a fifth arrest was made for immigration offences.
Video by David Wheeler
Chief Inspector Steve McSorley said: “At some point, as people were leaving, a dispute started between members of the factions away from the church.
“It led to some allegations of assault, we had to call in units from other boroughs.
“We are trying to work out our policing plan. We are trying to engage their intentions for next weekend and make sure we are well resourced to be able to deal with it.”
Children aged three upwards were not able to go to Sunday school in nearby Ridley Hall Church in Broughton Street as a result of the protest.
In May last year Gebrehana Semre, a priest at the church, was given a suspended sentence for sexual assault and is believed to still be practising at the church.
Police have said this is not linked to the weekend’s violence.
Tewodros Gebru will appear at Wimbledon Magistrates Court on October 28.
Dawrit Girmay and Ammanuel Kidane will appear on October 29.