Jewish leaders have condemned a wedding attended by around 400 people at a north London school after it was broken up by police.
The windows of the state-funded Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Egerton Road, Stamford Hill, had been covered to stop people seeing in when officers arrived on Thursday night.
Around 400 people had gathered inside the building for a wedding in breach of Covid-19 regulations, the Metropolitan Police said.
Many of the guests fled as officers arrived at the Orthodox Jewish school but the force said the organiser is facing a £10,000 fine, while five others were handed £200 fixed-penalty notices.
A statement from the school, whose principal, Rabbi Avrahom Pinter, died in April after contracting coronavirus, said the hall had been leased to an outside organisation and “we had no knowledge that the wedding was taking place”.
A spokesman said: “We are absolutely horrified about last night’s event and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Hackney mayor Philip Glanville told BBC news the venue had previously been used for similar events during the pandemic.
“It’s a deeply disturbing incident at a time when in Hackney we have seen the largest number of deaths reported since last April,” he said.
Under current lockdown rules, weddings and civil partnerships can only take place with up to six people.
Government guidance states they should only go ahead in exceptional circumstances, such as where one partner is seriously ill.
Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett described the event as “a completely unacceptable breach of the law, which is very clearly in place to save lives and protect the NHS”.
“People across the country are making sacrifices by cancelling or postponing weddings and other celebrations and there is no excuse for this type of behaviour,” he added.
Prominent members of the Jewish community also condemned the wedding, with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis calling the event “a most shameful desecration of all that we hold dear”.
He said on Twitter: “At a time when we are all making such great sacrifices, it amounts to a brazen abrogation of the responsibility to protect life and such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.”
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the breach “goes against Jewish teaching that preserving life is of the highest value”.
“The reckless and dangerous behaviour of those behind this event does not represent the attitude of the vast majority of British Jews, including from within the Strictly Orthodox community, who are fully aware of the terrible toll of this pandemic,” she said.
“At the latest count, 740 members of the Jewish community were among the more than 90,000 UK fatalities from Covid.”
The school’s car park is used as a drive-in Covid-19 test centre on Sundays for people who have a pre-booked appointment, while children could be seen going to class on Friday morning.
A school spokesman said: “We leased our hall to an external organisation which manages all lettings and, as such, we had no knowledge that the wedding was taking place.
“We have terminated the agreement with immediate effect.
“We are investigating how this shocking breach has happened and have no plans to re-lease the premises to any third party.
“We deplore the actions of anyone in any community breaking the law and risking people’s lives in this way.”
It comes as police forces and the Government move to crack down further on illegal gatherings.
A No 10 spokesman said: “Large gatherings such as that pose a health risk, not just to those who attend but those who they live with or others who they may come into contact with.
“We fully back the police in taking action against people who flagrantly and selfishly ignore the rules.”
Elsewhere, the Met said the owner of a makeshift nail salon operating from a garden outbuilding in Croydon, south London, is facing a £1,000 fine, while two women found having treatments there on Monday could get £200 fixed-penalty notices.
Police have given seven people who had gathered to watch television and eat together at a home in Romford, east London, last Sunday, penalties.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced at Thursday’s Downing Street press conference that fines of £800 will be handed to people caught at house parties or indoor of more than 15 people, doubling after each offence up to a maximum of £6,400 for repeat offenders.