Protective hat for Mary at nativity

Reports a child will be forced to wear a helmet while on a donkey playing Mary in a nativity pageant are taking everyone for a ride, an organiser is claiming.

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Reports that a child playing the Virgin Mary will have to wear a crash helmet while riding a donkey have been laughed off by organisers.

Reports a child will be forced to wear a helmet while on a donkey playing Mary in a nativity pageant are taking everyone for a ride, an organiser is claiming.

'Elf and safety' outrage has found a new focus in the latest example of the nanny state apparently ruining another time honoured British tradition.

But an organiser insisted today that some reports of the pageant had been partially "sexed up" in pursuit of another tradition - health and safety bashing.

Far from being forced to take unnecessary steps he has acted independently to ensure the safety of a schoolgirl Mary, he said.

A public nativity pageant will take place in Neath, south Wales, on Saturday, involving a real donkey ridden by a local eight-year-old.

While the need to wear a riding hat might detract somewhat from the overall effect, the protective head gear is likely to be shrouded under a costume.

Youth leader Mark Barrett, the event organiser at Neath's Bridge Church, took the decision with the owner of the donkey that the rider should wear a safety hat.

"In reports I've seen she will be wearing anything from a safety hat to a crash helmet," he said today.

"It's one of those situations where people don't let facts get in the way of a good story. But I think everyone is being taken for a ride to some extent."

He added: "The publicity has been good for us in that people are talking more widely about what we are doing, but the message of the nativity is being lost.

"This isn't about health and safety. Nobody has forced us to do anything. I don't think there is any rule saying that a rider has to wear a helmet.

"But the owner of the donkey and myself both believe that we have a duty of care towards this child.

"It is normal now to see a child wearing a protective hat on a donkey ride on the beach, so if you are on a road it is only common sense to do the same.

"If a child fell and got hurt while not wearing a hat, that would be in all the papers and people would ask why she was not wearing protective headgear."

He said: "I think that some people have tried to make the story as sexy as possible and sexed things up.

"But it is a good story anyway because it is the youth of the church who have written the drama and something like this is almost never done.

"We thought that we are not going to get everybody into church so why not take the church out to them.

"There are a lot of people struggling to make ends meet and under pressure and what I was hoping to do is bring a little bit of peace to them. This is what Christmas is all about."

Up to 50 people, mostly children aged eight to 16, are taking part in a series of events over two days, beginning with the town nativity at 11am on Saturday.

The nativity event is being held to raise money for the disaster fund set up to help people in the Philippines as part of the One Big Christmas Appeal.

On Sunday the Neath church hosts a special film screening depicting a modern family who are whisked back to a traditional nativity by the Doctor from Doctor Who.