Virendra Sharma MP

A veteran Indian-origin MP in the UK has urged the British government to take a decisive action against the recent burglaries at two temples in London and treat them as a hate crime.

Virendra Sharma, a Labour Party MP who represents the suburb of Ealing Southall which has a sizeable population of the Indian-origin people, raised the issue during Justice Questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday following break-ins at two Swaminarayan temples in north London.

“Within the last week, two separate Hindu Temples, Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Willesden and Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan Temple in Kenton, have been broken into and religious icons have been stolen,” Sharma said during questions addressed to UK Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke.

“Can the minister confirm that this will be treated as a hate crime, and not just ignored by the police, since it targeted people of one faith,” he asked.

The minister condemned the robberies and said that the specific incidents were a matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“Activity of this sort, and if it is targeted on the basis of religious belief, is completely unacceptable. I am sure the whole House is united in condemning that,” Gauke told MPs.

The latest break-in took place at the Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan Temple on Westfield Lane in Kenton in the early hours of Tuesday. This followed a previous break-in at Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Willesden last Friday, when three Krishna idols were stolen.

Scotland Yard said that investigations remain ongoing in both cases and that they are looking into a potential link between the two burglaries.

“Police were called to an alarm activation on Tuesday, 13 November, at 03:50 hours at a temple in Westfield Lane, Harrow. Officers attended and found entry had been forced,” a Metropolitan Police statement said, adding that no arrests have been made in either case so far.

Officers continued to review CCTV footage and conduct forensic searches as part of their enquiries. It remains unclear what was stolen during Tuesday’s robbery but cash and idols were stolen in last week’s break-in.

According to the President of the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, Kurjibhai Kerai, the Hari Krishna idols stolen last week had been with the temple since its opening in 1975.

While the idols are made of brass, the temple authorities fear the robbers may have mistaken them for gold and hope they would be returned as they are more precious to the community than in terms of their monetary value.

Both burglaries took place around the time the temples had played host to annual Diwali festivities, attended by hundreds of members of the local community.