Jewish community representatives in the UK have reacted with horror and dismay to the hounding of a Muslim woman on a French beach for wearing modest swimwear.

The show of solidarity comes after police armed with pepper spray and batons heavy-handedly enforced regional bans on Muslim women wearing headscarves and the increasingly-popular ‘burkini’ on beaches.

The swimwear, which has been prohibited by the mayors of Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and the Corsican resort of Sisco, is designed for increased modesty, leaving only the face, hands and feet exposed.

However, reports this week emerged of incidents across the south of France, in which four armed officers waded onto one beach and ordered a mother to remove the banned attire and issue on-the-spot fines.

A Board of Deputies spokesperson said: “We were very concerned to see the scenes on a French beach yesterday during which a Muslim woman was confronted by police about her modest style of dress.

“Wherever there is not some compelling reason – such as the infringement of the rights of others, or some demonstrable safety hazard – it is important that people of different faiths be allowed to manifest their beliefs through their dress. The accommodation of – and respect for – difference is a key British value.”

The mayors have argued that wearing a burkini and/or headscarf on a beach defies French laws on secularism, triggering a heated public debate, during which a wealthy French businessman offered to pay any fines imposed.