CHURCH leaders have urged people not to fear midnight mass after violence erupted at a service last year.

Catholic and Church of England leaders hope people will not be put off attending Christmas services and issued a warning that people should not drink too much alcohol.

The plea comes one year after police officers were called to break up a brawl at a Southampton Christmas Eve mass.

As reported by the Daily Echo, frightened members of the 350-strong congregation at St Edmund’s Church in The Avenue were forced to run for cover as heavy chairs were thrown down an aisle during the scuffle just after 12.30am.

Monsignor Vincent Harvey had to halt the service in which he had just delivered a sermon about the frailty of human nature and broken society for 20 minutes while police calmed the situation.

Speaking to the Daily Echo, he said the Catholic Church’s Christmas services will still go ahead saying he did not hold any “fear or anxiety”.

The priest, said: “There is always going to be some trepidation when something like this has happened and I am sure we will all be more aware of our surroundings this year. But I have to say security is never normally an issue, nothing like this has happened in the 32 years I have been a priest and the 60 years as a layperson.”

He urged people not to drink too much adding: “I would say don’t ruin their own celebrations and don’t ruin others’ celebrations by excess drinking. I hope people don’t drink too much anytime especially if it is damaging to health and that is not just Christmas.”

And he issued a warning to any troublemakers adding: “Police will be alert that late services are happening and if there is any hint of trouble the stewards know to dial 999 in that situation.”

Barry Hudd, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, said church leaders were not worried about violence this year.

He said: “To put this into perspective there are ten Catholic churches in Southampton and each year they have midnight mass at Christmas and the only recorded incident was last year.

“I hope it doesn’t put people off because last year was clearly out of character and we hope this year it will be peaceful.

“For many people Christmas is not complete without midnight mass and I hope that will continue to be the case.”

Catholic priest David Sillince said he was looking forward to midnight mass at St Boniface Church in Shirley being “peacefully hopeful” urging everyone to enjoy the services.

Earlier this year the Daily Echo reported how two men from Southampton, Paulo Rodrigues, 32, and Jose Barradas, 27, were charged with affray but walked free from court after being cleared by a jury at trial.

They said they were trying to pull their friend away from the trouble he started and were not involved themselves.

It was accepted a third man was the ringleader but he failed to answer bail and is understood to have left the country.