Street preacher arrested outside St Paul’s Cathedral

A street preacher has been arrested outside St Paul’s Cathedral after cathedral staff complained about him reading from the Bible.

Allan Coote, a bus driver from east London, was arrested for a breach of the peace when he said he would continue to lawfully read Scripture.

The evangelist said that no passers-by had ever complained.

No complaints

Video footage from a separate occasion shows a police officer telling St Paul’s staff that Mr Coote was not breaching the peace.

The officer adds, “it would be remiss of me to move him on in a place of worship”.

Mr Coote has accepted that he has a “natural, booming” voice.

“I think the Lord has gifted me that voice so I should go out to read the Bible publicly. I started at St Paul’s because it is a public venue where many nations converge.”

The law

St Paul’s said it would allow Mr Coote to read from the Bible for 30 minutes per week – it has a policy of ‘limited disturbance’.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: “We don’t know anything about the circumstances of this case other than what has been reported in The Times.

“However, we do know that wrongful arrests can be made, even though there are good laws which have protected street preachers time after time.

“When we have defended street preachers we have always won. This indicates how strong the laws are in this country. But even good laws can be misapplied.”

‘Illiberal and illogical’

The law affords extensive freedom for street preachers. A breach of the peace requires someone to speak so provocatively as to move someone to “not wholly unreasonable” violence.

In a landmark case where a group of street preachers were vindicated, Lord Justice Sedley said freedom of speech “includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence.

He added: “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

In that 1999 judgment, Lord Justice Sedley also remarked that for police officers to view preaching from the Bible as likely to incite violence was both “illiberal and illogical”, particularly as it is preached weekly in churches, and broadcast on national radio daily.

Lawful conduct

The judge added: “A police officer has no right to call upon a citizen to desist from lawful conduct.

“It is only if otherwise lawful conduct gives rise to a reasonable apprehension that it will, by interfering with the rights or liberties of others, provoke violence which, though unlawful, would not be entirely unreasonable that a constable is empowered to take steps to prevent it.”

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