Fight At Church During Midnight Mass

A priest has described how he feared parishioners' lives were in danger when a fight broke out in his church during midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

The priest managed to continue the mass to his shocked but uninjured congregation after police arrived to arrest those involved.

Father Vincent said:

 ''There was loud talking going on at the back but I just assumed some people had had a bit too much to drink.

''But then about three or four minutes later, there were scuffles going on. Then it was obvious it was more than just a scuffle, there was actually a fight going on.''

He continued: ''The person involved started throwing fairly heavy chairs down a side aisle, endangering people's lives.

''People were frightened that it was happening. If they'd hit anybody they could have been badly injured.''

He said stewards helped to remove the people from the Catholic church, putting their own lives in danger.

Father Vincent said the people involved in the fight were not regular churchgoers and he believed they had entered the church part way through the service.

He added that the disagreement was between the people involved and not targeted at the congregation.

He said most of the 350 people in the church stayed to hear the rest of the mass, although some, who were ''shaken'' by the incident, went home.

The priest said:

''I just asked people for a bit of silence so we could recollect ourselves and to pray for the person involved.

''My sermon had been about how we are broken people, fragile people, and I said he is one of the very people I'm talking about.''

Father Vincent said the fight ''dampened'' the Christmas celebrations but that most people were in a positive mood when they left.

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said officers were called to the service shortly after 12.30am on Christmas Day and three men, aged 24, 27 and 31, were arrested at or near the church at about 1am.

The men, all from Southampton, were questioned on suspicion of affray and bailed pending further inquiries.

The spokesman said the reasons for the fight were unclear.

Detective Constable Russell Bennett said:

''Initial inquiries have established that three men walked into the church where several hundred people were taking part in midnight mass.

''It's alleged these men became aggressive and abusive towards some of the church congregation. Objects, including chairs, were thrown, but no serious injuries or damage has been reported to police so far.

''The exact reasons for the fight remain unclear while police are in the process of identifying and contacting all potential victims and witnesses.

''The behaviour of suspects in the hours before the fight also forms part of the investigation.''

The detective thanked everyone at the church and members of the public for their help and co-operation with the investigation and appealed for anyone with information about the fight to contact police.Monsignor Vincent Harvey said heavy chairs were thrown down an aisle at St Edmund's Church, Southampton, during the brawl in the middle of the service on Saturday night.