Bailiffs executed a dawn raid on a Hindu temple, evicting priests and seizing its sacred contents in a move which has outraged the Hindu community.

Backed up by the police, they moved in on the Sivayogam temple in Hebdon Road, Tooting, at 5am last Tuesday, May 22, following a protracted legal dispute with owner Barrowfen Properties Ltd which has plans to turn it into a Travelodge.

Eleven priests sleeping in the art deco building were evicted and the building sealed, preventing worshippers from entering or removing 16 gold and gem encrusted statues of gods believed to be worth around £100,000.

Following pressure from the Hindu community and others such as the local MP Sadiq Khan, the High Court ruled on Monday that the temple trustees should be allowed back into the building for one day to remove their possessions.

The court had earlier granted legal possesion of the building to Barrowfen and ordered the temple trustees to pay them £180,000 in rent arrears dating back to 2008. The temple trustees who have been based in the building for 16 years continue to dispute this debt.

This morning they were at the temple accompanied by police officers and their solicitors to collect their beloingings and ensure that nothing has been damaged.

Founder and spiritual leader of the temple Nagendram Seevaratnam, 74, said: "It is the way they would have treated criminals.

"Everybody is devastated, people are crying, I can't describe how people feel. There is disgust on the face of the deities.

"I feel disappointment in the administration and the way the police have behaved.

"I roundly condemn the sacrilegious conduct of the enforcement officers and police in gaining forceful and blasphemous entry into the temple."

A source close to the temple said they were appalled that meat eaters had entered sacred parts of the temple wearing shoes, regarded as sacrilege by Hindus.

They said: "Meat eaters are not permitted entry into the temple area. This, notwithstanding high handed enforcement officers who are beef eaters have violated the sanctity of the temple by trampling the area of the shrines with their booted feet."

But Barrowfen said the order was enforced with sensitivity to ensure the deities were not touched, with the police there to make sure it was carried out peacefully.

A statement said: "Nobody touched the deities, they were told to just take their personal possessions and leave. We gave them two to three hours of negotiations.

"They are going on saying we haven't given them enough time. We told them in 2009 we would not be renewing their lease.

"The landlord wants to redevelop the whole block to a mixture of everything - housing, shopping and it will make the whole area so much better and for everybody's benefit."

Borough Commander David Chinchen said: "Our planning has been to ensure there was sensitivity. We have ensured as far as possible these evictions are done with sensitivity, it was seen as a place of worship and considerations were made.

"And there should be sensitivity to allow them to remove the deities."

Tooting MP Sadiq Khan said: "The eviction of Sivayogam Temple is very distressing for the local community, and for the Hindu community across South London "One of the joys of Tooting is that we have churches, mosques, gurdwaras and temples all serving our community cheek by jowl.

"The way the congregation have been treated by the landlord is shocking. Since the eviction I have been extremely concerned that the temple is respected at all times, and that nothing is done to damage or remove any deities in the temple."

A spokesperson for the Hindu Council UK said: "A temple is a community centre. Obviously demolition of it will be distressing to community life.

"If you are replacing a community centre purely for commercial purposes the council would need to look deeper into it.

"The trustees should have made an application for a restraining order and appealed the decision to the High Court. We are looking into and doing our collective thinking on this."

Mr Seevaratnam said thousands of people regularly attended services at the temple with up to 8,000 travelling to take part in their annual chariot festival.

In May 2010 Barrowfen submitted a planning application to create a 76-bedroom hotel on the site, plus 11 flats and shops on the ground floor.

Last November the temple's huge sacred chariot was mysteriously torched outside the building.Police have yet to find the culprits.

The temple is now in the process of relocating to a site in Lion Road, Mitcham.