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Unholy row over 'Christian' claims; Group of Jehovah's Witnesses in war of words with vicar.

Byline: Brian Daniel

JEHOVAH'S Witnesses have come out on top in an unholy row over their plans for a new centre in a Northumberland market town.

The group has been involved in a war of words with the vicar of a church in Berwick over its planning application for a new Kingdom Hall.

The vicar at the church at Scremerston objected to the proposal claiming Jehovah's Witnesses are not Christians.

The group - which had snubbed an "unacceptable" suggestion that it share space with a town church - hit back, insisting nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, the row has been resolved with the group being given planning approval. The Jehovah's Witnesses have been based at West End in Tweedmouth since 1971 but a new hall is needed due to the high costs of maintaining the current site.

A single storey premises is needed to make access easier for its elderly members.

The application was submitted by the Berwick KH Project, and sought permission for a single storey place of "Christian" worship, south of Derwentwater Terrace.

However, four letters of objection were submitted to Northumberland County Council by residents, while Ancroft Parish Council also voiced its opposition.

One of the letters was from Rev Matthew Knox, vicar of St Peter's Church.

In it, he said he is not opposed to the building of the Kingdom Hall, but that it was "not a Christian denomination" and it was therefore "misleading" to use the word Christian.

The Jehovah's Witnesses insisted they are Christians and that they believe in the Bible.

The parish council suggested in its objection that the Jehovah's Witnesses could share an "underused" church in Scremerston.

But the group ruled that out as "our views are not comparable with others".

County council officers recommended the plan for approval.

Rev Knox addressed the North area planning committee but members voted in favour.

Last night, Harry Haworth, co-ordinator of the KH project, said: "We are very pleased because we have put a lot of effort in over the last 10 or 12 years looking for a site and now we have finally found a site down there, not without objections."

Mr Haworth said the group had not addressed the religious issue as it was the application's planning merits that mattered.

Rev Knox last night said: "Using the word Christian, I felt like I needed to stand up because I felt truth matters and I think it is important to know Jehovah's Witnesses believe very different things."

The Jehovah's Witnesses have a deal in place to buy the land from Greenwich Hospital and hope to be on site in the next year.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 7, 2011
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