A Traveller religious festival has seen a town subjected to drag races and abuse as organisers blamed “non-Christian” attendees.
Around 1,500 people descended on the Rutland Showground in Leicestershire on Saturday for a convention organised by the Light and Life Gypsy Church.
The event is scheduled to last until Friday and is legally authorised in line with current Government guidance, which permits outdoor events of up to 4,000 people.
It has already been marred by reports of antisocial behaviour, including fights and drag racing, while Leicestershire Police confirmed a number of arrests have been made.
The Traveller celebrations have proceeded despite the cancellation of the Rutland Food and Farming Festival – which was set to take place at the showground on July 11 – amid concerns about coronavirus.
Rutland and Oakland councils told The Telegraph they were only made aware of the festival after it had already started.
Hundreds of worshippers, many of whom were not socially distanced or wearing face coverings, were seen singing in a marquee in footage shared by the showground on social media
Hundreds of worshippers, many of whom were not socially distanced or wearing face coverings, were seen singing in a marquee in footage shared by the showground on social media on Sunday night.
Zoe Nealson, the town mayor of Oakham, said there was “a lot of frustration” from residents that the religious event had been allowed to go ahead.
“There’s been a lot of reports to the council of staff being shouted at, spat at and threatened. There are businesses that have remained closed this week for the safety of their staff,” she told The Telegraph.
“It’s out of our remit but is having a very big impact on the town. There is a lot of frustration that an event of this size is going ahead with residents’ concerns about Covid.
“Antisocial behaviour and the effect on businesses is what has set people on edge. It’s been very difficult for Oakham and its residents, and this week will be difficult.”
Elijah Ward, from the Darlington branch of Light and Life, said that any trouble had been caused by “a lot of non-Christians [who] have attended”.
Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Rupert Matthews said he had demanded an urgent update from officers after receiving several complaints.
“I am distressed to hear how little regard has been given to the residents of Oakham,” he said. “There’s been intimidation and dangerous driving, not to mention breaking the Covid rules.”
Rutland Agricultural Society, which manages the showground, apologised for the “disturbance” caused by the gathering and said in a statement that it had approved the event in line with its religious focus.
“We agreed to the booking after assessing the organisers’ risk assessment and with the belief that this was an event primarily about Christian worship,” said chief executive Kevin Tighe.
“However, there is a minority of people who are disrupting the event and causing significant problems around the showground.
“Our priority is to help maintain public order and minimise disruption and allow the event to refocus on its Christian worship as quickly and quietly as possible.”
A spokesman for Rutland Council said: “Rutland County Council was not made aware of this event as no event application was submitted in advance. The council was therefore only alerted to the event once it was already underway.
“The council has been working with the police and other partners to manage the immediate issues arising from this event. The partnership is working with the event organisers to ensure it is delivered safely and within Covid-19 guidelines.”
More than 3,000 people attended a field in the Cotswolds for the 2017 Light and Life festival, which Thame and Oxfordshire County Agricultural Association claimed had been booked as an “annual get-together” under a false name.