The Independent Police Complaints Commission will investigate allegations that a police officer in Birmingham told two Christian church workers, “you can’t preach here, this is a Muslim area.”
Lawyers for the two church workers sent a strongly worded letter to West Midland Police last week saying the police action infringed human rights laws on free speech and religious liberty.
The incident happened to Mr Arthur Cunningham and Mr Joseph Abraham as they were handing out Christian tracts on the corner of Ellesmere and Alum Rock Road in the city on 19 February this year.
A statement from the force read: “As a result of correspondence received on behalf of Mr Cunningham and Mr Abraham appealing our decision in relation to their complaint we have referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“In light of this referral we are unable to comment on the details of this case, however West Midlands Police would like to reassure all communities that there are not any ‘no go’ areas in the West Midlands Police area and we will defend the rights of the individual to freedom of expression and religious faiths.”
It is not the first time that West Midlands Police have been criticised for their actions when dealing with incidents involving free speech and Islam.
Last month West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service were ordered to pay out £50,000 in damages and £50,000 in costs to Channel 4 after a High Court ruling found that they had libelled the makers of the Dispatches documentary, ‘undercover mosque’.
The police and the CPS had wrongly accused the film makers of unfairly editing the footage and stirring up racial hatred.
The film featured Muslim preachers from a mosque in Birmingham making statements including: “take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain” and “whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else – kill him in the Islamic state”.
Police were called in to investigate the clerics, but after six months dropped the inquiry and turned on Channel 4, saying the film had been unfairly edited and asking prosecutors whether they could be charged for stirring up racial hatred.
When it was decided there was insufficient evidence to support a prosecution, West Midlands Police took it upon themselves to complain about the programme to the Government’s broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom.
The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: “Once they were clear that no criminal offence had been committed, it was in my view a serious misjudgment to continue to pursue the editorial team and risked impeding freedom of speech.”
West Midlands Police accepted at court that they were wrong and that there was “no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity”.