A woman said she has been left “inconsolable” after police interrupted her father’s funeral to enforce social distancing rules.
Helen Kolovos held a funeral service for her father, Floros 'Dinos' Toskidis, on Saturday in Victoria when she said two police officers entered the church as his coffin was being carried out.
Since March funeral services have been limited to 10 people, as part of the government’s attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, and the family says it went to great lengths to abide by the rules.
“We made the painful calls to relatives to let them know who could attend and who couldn't,” Mr Toskidis’ granddaughter Benita Kolovos told AAP.
“Being from a Greek family it was already mission impossible to do that, but we did, we literally had to pick and choose our own family,” Helen told The Guardian.
‘It broke my heart’
Benita said she was warned by the Greek Orthodox funeral director that police had been regularly checking on many services to make sure social distancing measures were in place.
“Our small, sad congregation arrived at the grand church on Saturday, some clad in gloves and masks, and took our seats at individual pews.
“Even those of us from the same household had to sit apart. I've never felt more alone,” she said.
It was toward the end of the funeral police entered.
“It was just totally disrespectful, to carry a gun in a Greek church, it’s totally against our religion, But the way they came in, they didn’t bow their heads or anything. They just started speaking to some of the people who were working in the church and taking notes as we’re carrying out my dad,” Helen told the Guardian.
“To see the police come in at that moment, it broke my heart into a million pieces,” she added.
Benita told AAP that as police were questioning workers at the church, the priest left and the funeral director called for the service to be cut short.
“As my dad, brother and two uncles carried Papou (grandfather) out of the church, the officers continued to question the church staff,” she said.
Both Benita and Helen said they were shocked police didn’t use more decorum while doing their job.
“I don't know what I expected. I thought they'd stop, maybe bow their heads, or give us a knowing nod, a 'sorry, we don't want to be here either' face.
“Instead, we were forced to feel in the wrong when we were doing everything right,” Benita said.
Guests left the church and rushed to their cars concerned they would be fined.
“Some couldn't follow the hearse as we made our way to the cemetery,” Benita added and said her grandfather “was a true gentleman who deserved better”.
VIC police would not comment on specific incidents but when asked about police attending funeral services at a press conference on Tuesday, Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said he expected all police to be “respectful and mindful of any circumstance”.
“When they are called somewhere because of breaches, we attend and we do what we have to do in the most respectful manner we can,” he said.
The incident comes as police around Australia begin to rapidly issue fines for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
Non-essential travel is banned, while gatherings of more than two people who don’t reside in the same house are no longer allowed.
Funerals are allowed a maximum of 10 people, weddings have been restricted to five people.
Queensland police have reportedly issued over one million dollars in fines since social distancing restrictions began, while Victorian police have issued infringement notices to a couple for non-essential travel after they posted old holiday photos on Facebook, and a teenager learner driver who was practicing driving, both fines were reviewed and withdrawn.
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