Mother’s suicide turns lens on skewed police priorities

How can the police zealously pursue Christians for criticising Islam yet say the thugs who drove a mother to kill herself and her daughter were a ‘low priority’?

That is the question asked by Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips today as it emerged that Fiona Pilkington set fire to herself and her disabled daughter in their car in 2007 after years of torment by a local gang.

The coroner said the tragedy could have been avoided if the police had responded to Fiona’s 33 pleas for help. Instead, they were ignored.

“Many, many other unfortunate people are being forced to live in a similar state of siege from local yobs, with the police unable or unwilling to end the attacks”, writes Miss Phillips.

“But now look at what the police are investigating with unalloyed zeal”, she continues.

“Two Christian hoteliers, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, were charged with using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’ which were ‘religiously aggravated’ after having a heated conversation about religion with a Muslim guest at their hotel.

“We don’t know what was said. Maybe it was no more than a heated argument; maybe the Vogelenzangs were indeed offensive and unpleasant.

“But however horrible they may have been, how on earth can this be a proper matter for the police?”

Miss Phillips tells of a recent experience at a police conference where she was asked where police could rein in their spending.

“I suggested they should drop their obsession with ‘diversity’ and, rather than pursuing people under ‘hate crime’ laws for giving offence to others, should concentrate on tackling the yobbery on housing estates where besieged residents felt the police had abandoned them”, she writes.

“It is fair to say my remarks were not greeted with widespread acclaim. Officers seemed stunned that I could challenge the sacred cow of ‘diversity’.”

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said there were “no excuses” for the Pilkington tragedy, and said police needed to use the powers available to them in such cases.

But earlier the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, accused the Government of introducing “gimmicks” and endless paperwork which have left too few officers on the beat to respond to every call.

A spokesman said that “policies, not individual police officers” were “failing the public”.

Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang are not the first Christians to encounter the police’s zeal in pursuing cases where a minority is perceived to have been offended.

Gainsborough, 2008

Last year, moderate Christian preacher Andy Robertson was told by a police officer that it is a crime to publicly express the religious belief that homosexual conduct is sinful.

Greater Manchester, 2007

A five-strong team of police officers investigated complaints that a church’s invitation leaflet to an Easter service was ‘offensive’. Although the leaflet said nothing about homosexuality, the complainant said it was offensive for evangelical Christians to be advertising themselves in an area where there is a “sizeable gay community”.

West Midlands, 2008

Church workers Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham were told by police that they could not preach the gospel in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham.

Greater Manchester, 2008

A Christian street preacher in Manchester was silenced, taken into the back of a police van, questioned and detained for over an hour following a complaint of ‘homophobia’.

Miguel Hayworth had been publicly reading from the Bible, from Romans 1:17-32, when a member of the public complained. The officers later released Mr Hayworth and he was permitted to continue preaching.

South Wales, 2006

Stephen Green, a Christian campaigner, was arrested for handing out evangelistic tracts at a gay pride festival in Cardiff. Police admitted that he had not behaved in a violent or aggressive manner, but confirmed that officers arrested him because the leaflets contained biblical quotes about homosexuality.

Mr Green was held at a police station for four hours, questioned, charged and eventually committed for trial. The case against Mr Green was subsequently dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

London, 2005

Lynette Burrows, an author and family-values campaigner, took part in a radio talk show about civil partnerships for homosexuals. Mrs Burrows said she did not believe that adoption by two gay men would be best for a child. Subsequently, a policewoman telephoned Mrs Burrows to speak to her about her comments.

The police officer said a ‘homophobic incident’ had been reported against her and that record of it would be kept by police. Mrs Burrows felt that the policewoman was pressurising her even though she had committed no crime.

Lancashire, 2005

Christian pensioners, Joe and Helen Roberts, were interrogated by police in 2005 because they had expressed their opposition to their local council spending public money on ‘gay rights’ projects.

After launching legal action, the couple eventually won an apology and damages from Lancashire Police and Wyre Borough Council. The police and the council also changed their procedures to avoid making the same mistake again.

Cheshire, 2003

In November 2003 the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, was investigated by Cheshire Constabulary after he told his local newspaper that some homosexuals re-orientated to heterosexuality with the help of therapy.

A complaint was made to the police that his remarks were a ‘hate crime’. The police passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service, who decided not to prosecute because the Bishop had not broken any “current” laws.

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