Santa Claus was prevented from giving presents to the imprisoned children of asylum seekers at the notorious Yarl's Wood detention centre by private security guards. Yarl's Wood is a privately run prison whose inmates are UK immigrants who arrived seeking asylum, but whose claims have been denied. They are dragged out of bed in the dead of night and stuck in mesh-windowed vans without their belongings and without the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, and then detained in terrible conditions that have been decried by human rights advocates, doctors, psychiatrists and other experts. Their "crime" is trying to escape torture, privation, and disaster.
The rent-a-cops at Yarl's Wood told the Anglican church's leading expert on Father Christmas (dressed in a Santa costume) that he couldn't enter the centre to give the children presents. They also blocked the canon theologian at Westminster Abbey. Then they cancelled a later scheduled visit with detained families at the centre.
And the whole mess is on video.
But when the Anglican church's leading expert on Father Christmas, dressed as St Nicholas himself, arrived with one of Britain's most distinguished clerics to distribute presents to children held at the Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, things took a turn straight out of Dickens.
An unedifying standoff developed that saw the security personnel who guard the perimeter fence prevent St Nicholas, the patron saint of children and the imprisoned, from delivering £300 worth of presents donated by congregations of several London churches.
In a red robe and long white beard, clutching a bishop's mitre and crook, St Nick – in real life, the Rev Canon James Rosenthal, a world authority on St Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for Father Christmas – gently protested that he was not a security threat, but to no avail.
Then as St Nicholas, accompanied by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey, attempted to bless the gifts, the increasingly angry security guards called the police. The resulting ill-tempered and surreal impasse between church and state was videotaped by asylum seeker support groups and could become an internet viral hit.