Video: police quiz Christian pensioner over gay beliefs

Sun, 25 Oct 2009

A Christian pensioner was verbally abused at a gay pride parade but when she complained to her local council, the police investigated her for ‘homophobic hatred’.

Mrs Howe speaks of her shock
at being visited by the police

Mrs Pauline Howe, 67, says she was the victim of a number of sexually explicit verbal attacks while she handed out Christian leaflets at the event.

She wrote to the Chief Executive of Norwich City Council objecting to abuse she suffered at the homosexual carnival, held in the city on 25 July.

Weeks later she was stunned to have two police officers knocking on her door. They said her letter was homophobic and may be treated as a ‘hate incident’.

Ben Summerskill, head of the gay lobby group Stonewall, criticised the police visit calling it “disproportionate”.

In her letter Mrs Howe wrote about those taking part in the parade: “They were in our faces with aggressive verbal abuse.”

She added: “I and other Christians present are not attempting to prevent those who engage in this offensive behaviour from doing so in the privacy of their own homes.

“It is the public display of such indecency on the streets of Norwich which is so offensive to God and to many Norwich residents.”

Her letter also used biblical language to describe homosexual practice, said it had contributed to the downfall of every empire and that gay sex was a major cause of sexually transmitted infections .

Bridget Buttinger, deputy chief executive at the council, replied to Mrs Howe in September, warning that she could face being charged with a criminal offence for expressing such views.

“As a local authority we have a duty along with other public bodies to eliminate discrimination of all kinds,” she wrote.

“A hate incident is any incident that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hatred. A hate crime is any hate incident that constitutes a criminal offence.

“The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation.”

She added: “Your details and details of the content of your letter have been recorded as such and passed to the Police.”

A spokesman for the force defended the decision to send officers to Mrs Howe’s home.

“If it has come into our intelligence and been reported to us as a crime then we have to investigate,” he said.

Following the police visit Mrs Howe contacted The Christian Institute for advice.

The Institute is investigating whether the local council and the police have breached Mrs Howe’s rights to free speech and religious liberty under the Human Rights Act.

In 2006 The Christian Institute helped pensioner couple, Joe and Helen Roberts, take legal action in a similar case involving Lancashire Police and Wyre Borough Council.

The Roberts had been questioned by police for telephoning their local council and expressing opposition to its gay rights policy.

When the police and the council refused to apologise for their heavy-handed action Mr and Mrs Roberts sued them for breaching free speech and religious liberty laws.

The case was set to be heard by the High Court but, with just days to go before the trial, Lancashire Police and Wyre Borough Council settled out of court.

They admitted their actions were wrong, changed their policies to avoid the same mistake in the future, and paid damages which the couple donated to charity.

Commenting on this latest case from Norwich, The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “Whether people agree or disagree with Mrs Howe’s views, everyone who cares about freedom should be alarmed at the police action.

“For democracy to survive people must be free to express their beliefs, yes even unpopular beliefs, to government bodies without fear of a knock at the door from the police.

“It’s not a crime to be a Christian, but it increasingly feels like it.”

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