Spiritualist leader is stripped of his title.
A LONG-running battle between two branches of a religious group over a Merseyside church has been resolved by the courts.
The struggle for ownership of the Waterloo Spiritualist Church has led to locks being changed and repeated attempts to evict the local group's president, who lives in a flat above the church.
The dispute between the local and national branches of the religious group centred on the ownership of the building and the running of the church's affairs.
It culminated in a two-day hearing at Liverpool High Court, which resulted in a victory for the Waterloo church's governing body, the Spiritualist National Union (SNU).
It means that Kevin West, the president of the Waterloo Spiritualist Church, has been formally stripped of his title and had his membership terminated.
Last night Mr West, who has been president of the Waterloo church since 1994, said he would now be handing over the keys to the building and quitting his home above the chapel in South Road.
Kirkby-born Mr West, 40, claimed the SNU had a ``hidden agenda'' which involved closing down the church and selling off the premises for profit.
He added: ``I had the support of 71 out of the 77 members. As a church leader, it's my right to speak up on these issues, and what I believe is spiritual wickedness in high places.
``I've done everything I could and I feel sorry for the people who rely on the church for community and fellowship.''
During the dispute, the locks to the building were changed both by representatives of the SNU and by Mr West to prevent the other from gaining access.
Michael Dempsey, who described himself as ``caretaker president'' of the Waterloo church, yesterday refused to comment on the case before a meeting of the executive committee takes place later this week.
Adrian Gilby, the solicitor acting for the SNU, said Mr West's membership of the church had originally been terminated in January, 2001, which meant he was also automatically stripped of his status as church president.
He said: ``He refused to accept the position, which led to the SNU making out the injunction proceedings last year. It was set down for a trial so all the issues could be fully explored.
``This found that Mr West's membership of the Waterloo Spiritualist Church and his presidency has been validly revoked, with effect from January, 2001.
``Although the judge didn't make an order that the keys are handed over, his strong advice was that Mr West hand them over forthwith.
``If the situation on the ground does not improve, the Spiritualist National Union would be at liberty to apply to the court for such other order as it thinks fit.''
The Waterloo branch of the Spiritualist Church, whose members believe in clairvoyance and spiritual healing, was established in 1937 and has been affiliated to the national body since 1942.