Police say ‘sorry’ over Christian café Bible case

Thu, 29 Sep 2011

Police have given a partial apology to the owner of a Christian café who was wrongly told displaying Bible verses on a TV screen was a breach of public order laws.

Police visited the café owner on Tuesday, admitted they got the law wrong, and said sorry for the ‘manner’ of their investigation.

But they refused to apologise for launching the investigation and they also denied banning the display of the Bible texts in the café.

Forgiven

The café owner, Jamie Murray, says he accepts the police’s apology as far as it goes. He forgives them but he believes some important matters remain unaddressed.

Mr Murray says he will not allow the police to brush the incident under the carpet, because he is worried that it could happen to another Christian.

Supported by The Christian Institute, he has taken legal advice and intends to lodge a formal complaint with the police.

Obfuscate

The police claim they never told Mr Murray that he couldn’t display the Bible texts. But Mr Murray says the police are obfuscating.

He says he asked the police whether displaying the Bible texts was a crime, and they indicated he could be arrested if he continued to display the offensive or insulting material.

There also appears to be confusion over which part of the Public Order Act 1986 the police were using to justify their actions.

Confusion

Originally two police officers told Mr Murray they were investigating a possible Section 5 offence, which outlaws insulting words that are likely to cause distress.

But days later the police told the media they were investigating a possible Section 29E offence, which outlaws the broadcasting of offensive material intended to stir up homophobic hatred.

The Christian Institute’s solicitor-advocate, Sam Webster, says that simply displaying Bible texts in a Christian café does not fall within the scope of either offence.

And many will doubt whether the police action was an ‘investigation’ at all, given that the police failed to look at the material that allegedly caused offence, or give Mr Murray an opportunity to refute the allegation or explain his position. They seemed to have predetermined that he was in the wrong.

Relief

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “Mr Murray is obviously pleased that the police have admitted to some of their mistakes.

“He is certainly relieved that he doesn’t face arrest for displaying Bible verses in his Christian café.

“As a Christian he accepts the police’s apology, as far as it goes, and he forgives them.

Unfinished

“But there are some issues that the police have not acknowledged or apologised for, and some important details remain in dispute.

“Mr Murray doesn’t want to see this happen to anyone else, so he intends to lodge an official complaint with the police.

“He isn’t doing this for himself, he’s doing this so that we can live in a free society where the text of the Bible can be publicised without police interference.

Shuddering

“It is shuddering to think that a British police force in the 21st Century needs to be reminded of such basic civil liberties.

“There is clearly a need for Lancashire police force to review the training of its officers.”

Lancashire Police told the BBC: “It appears that the officer has misinterpreted the Public Order Act and we have apologised to the cafe owner for any distress we may have caused.”

The constabulary said it respected all religious views but said, “we have no issues with the professionalism or courtesy shown by the officer”.

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