Birmingham street preacher wins wrongful arrest case

Fri, 10 Dec 2010

An autistic Christian street preacher who was handcuffed and arrested for speaking out against homosexuality and many other sins has been awarded £4,250 in damages following a court case against West Midlands Police.

In a case backed by The Christian Institute, Birmingham County Court ruled on Wednesday that PC Adrian Bill committed assault and battery against Mr Anthony Rollins when he handcuffed him unnecessarily.

The court also ruled that Mr Rollins was wrongfully arrested, unlawfully detained and his human rights to free speech and religious liberty were infringed. The court ordered the police to pay Mr Rollins’ legal costs.

Civil liberty

Mr Rollins suffers from Asperger’s syndrome – a disorder that causes difficulties in social interaction. He was represented in court by Hugh Tomlinson QC, a respected civil liberty lawyer and joint author of the leading practitioner textbooks on human rights law and on civil actions against the police.

On 24 June 2008 Mr Rollins was preaching from the King James Bible in Birmingham city centre. He expressed his Christian belief that homosexual conduct is morally wrong.

A member of the public, Mr John Edwards, objected to Mr Rollins’ message and shouted “homophobic bigot” before calling 999 and asking for the police. Two officers arrived on the scene and PC Adrian Bill arrested Mr Rollins without further inquiry. Handcuffs were placed on Mr Rollins even though he was calm and compliant.

Charged

Mr Rollins was detained at a police station for over three hours. He was never interviewed for his version of events. He was charged with a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act – a law that has been criticised by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights for jeopardising free speech. The charges were later dropped before trial.

Mr Rollins made a complaint about the police action to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but they failed to uphold the complaint. In a civil action supported by The Christian Institute, Mr Rollins sued West Midlands Police for wrongful arrest, unlawful imprisonment, assault and battery, and infringement of his human rights. He won on all counts.

Giving his ruling the judge, Lance Ashworth QC, criticised the arresting officer, PC Bill. The judge said PC Bill had made the arrest “as a matter of routine without any thought being given to Mr. Rollins’ Convention Rights [to free speech and religious liberty].” The judge said PC Bill’s decision to arrest Mr Rollins showed “a lack of thoughtfulness”.

Self-important

The judge also said that PC Bill’s demeanour in the court was negative and evasive. He added that the police conduct was incompatible with Mr Rollins’ human rights to free speech and religious liberty.

The judge also criticised Mr Edwards, the man who originally phoned the police. Mr Edwards had appeared in court as a witness for the police. The judge said: “I was not impressed by Mr. Edwards as a witness. He struck me as a man, full of his own self-importance, who in the witness box relished the attention and greatly embellished his evidence.” The judge added that “in every respect where his evidence is at odds with the evidence of other witnesses I reject it”.

Mr Rollins told the court how it felt to be arrested, handcuffed and marched away by the police. He said he felt “anxious, shocked and very humiliated”. Mr Rollins told the court that he tried to talk to PC Bill following the arrest, but was told to “shut it, you will get your say in the police station”. However, he was never interviewed.

Heritage

Mr Rollins’ legal action against the police was supported by The Christian Institute, a charity that protects the religious liberty of Christians. The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “Street preachers may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is part of our Christian heritage. Most people just walk on by and ignore it. The police have no business arresting Christians for quoting the Bible.

“Whether you agree with Mr Rollins’ beliefs or not, surely we all value free speech. Christians are tired of being put on trial for their beliefs. There is clearly a problem with the Public Order Act and it needs fixing.”

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the civil rights group Justice and The Christian Institute have called for Section 5 of the Public Order Act to be amended so that it cannot be misused to interfere with free speech.