Christian street preacher wins court case against police
• Police officer told street preacher David McConnell he was arresting him “for preaching on gay rights and abortion”.
• McConnell was held for about six hours until a desk sergeant listened to a recording of his preaching and realised no offence had been committed.
• West Yorkshire Police admitted liability in court papers, and Liverpool County Court issued judgement in favour of McConnell.
• The Police have agreed to pay McConnell damages of £3,250 plus legal costs.
• The street preacher’s case was supported by The Christian Institute.
A Christian street preacher has won a claim against West Yorkshire Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of human rights.
David McConnell commenced legal action against the force after being arrested and held for about six hours in December 2019.
West Yorkshire Police admitted liability in papers filed with the court in May this year and have now agreed to pay the street preacher £3,250 plus legal costs.
David McConnell said:
“I was just preaching the gospel to a crowd of about 50 when some people came up and started asking me all sorts of hostile questions. I tried to give straightforward answers but they just got angrier and angrier. They wanted to ask me about sexuality and abortion. I hadn’t been preaching about these things. It was them who had brought the questions up. One of them obviously knew what they were doing because they called the police and claimed I’d caused ‘harassment, alarm and distress’.
“I don’t blame the police for responding to the call. But they should have asked me for my side of the story instead of just arresting me. They also got it wrong by not telling me what they were arresting me for. Anyone who has ever watched TV knows the police have to tell you what law you’re supposed to have broken but these officers never did. They just said ‘when you get to custody we’ll explain why you are arrested’.
“At the station the desk sergeant was a very reasonable person. I was allowed to keep my bible and a hymn book in my prison cell. Meanwhile he listened to the recording of my preaching and quickly realised there’d been a mistake and that I had not broken any laws. When he released me he mentioned the famous case of Redmond-Bate which upheld street preachers’ freedoms. The judge in that case said:
‘Free 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. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’
“I’m thankful that the police have admitted what they did was unlawful. It was a very distressing experience for me. But I’m glad I can put it behind me. I have to say that, when I am preaching now, the police in Huddersfield are very good with me. I’m glad I’m able to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, which supported Mr McConnell’s case, said:
“This was a clear breach of Mr McConnell’s human rights and a failure to follow the laws governing arrest and detention. West Yorkshire did the right thing by admitting liability and the court has issued judgment in favour of Mr McConnell.
“The £3,250 in damages is about par for the course in cases like this. The legal costs will be another few thousand pounds.
“This case has re-affirmed the value and importance of free speech. Christian street preachers have got as much legal right to speak in public as anyone else.
“We are glad the police have admitted they broke the law but more needs to be done to prevent these kinds of cases. The public is very concerned about the chilling of free speech. Instead of taking their cue on LGBT issues solely from LGBT groups, the police should be getting diversity training from a range of providers. This would remind them that, in a pluralistic and tolerant society, there is room for more than one opinion.
“The Chief Constable of neighbouring Greater Manchester Police recently said that “police officers putting rainbows on their epaulettes and wearing rainbow shoelaces” threatened officers’ traditional independence. He said:
“Officers could put themselves in a difficult place because if you demonstrate you’re not impartial, and you then have to make an arrest, how on earth do you assist the courts to come to just judgement as to you having executed your powers of arrest in an appropriately impartial professional manner?”
Simon Calvert continued:
“The fact that the police did not act with their usual professionalism in this case makes you wonder why. In recent weeks there have been reports that training and resources provided by a well-known LGBT pressure group appear to be misrepresenting the Equality Act 2010. Despite this taxpayer funded bodies, including some police forces, seem to have swallowed this advice hook, line and sinker. This raises questions about their ability to act within the law if their interpretation is warped by such misrepresentations.
“Dissent from the orthodoxies of LGBT groups is not criminal. You can’t have the police acting as enforcers for cancel culture, using the power of the state to silence unfashionable voices. That is not their job. Their job is to uphold the law for everyone, including Christians, without fear or favour.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
The facts of the case, as stated in McConnell’s Particulars of Claim, are:
“5. On 20 December 2019 at around 1pm the Claimant was preaching in Huddersfield Town Centre close to the Café Nero on King Street for just over an hour during which time he answered questions from members of the public who had stopped to listen. Some were abusive and heckled him, he remained calm throughout and did his best to answer questions. He also recorded the message he was preaching.
“6. After he had been preaching for about an hour or so, two police officers approached him and asked him to stop preaching. He confirmed he would, but asked if he could first finish his preaching, which would only take a few more minutes. The officers kindly agreed and the Claimant finished preaching. The message preached was recorded on his own audio device as is his normal practice to do.
“7. After he had finished, the Claimant told the police officers that he was preaching from the Bible. One of the officers asked for his name and address, which he willingly gave.
“8. At around 2:30pm the Claimant was arrested and taken into custody. No proper reason was given for the arrest, nor the offence that he had allegedly committed, save that one of the officers said: “when you get to custody we’ll explain why you are arrested”. The other officer said it was for “a hate related public order offence” and “for preaching on gay rights and abortion”.
“9. He was escorted to a waiting police van. Our client was dismayed and upset that he could be arrested and treated as a criminal simply for preaching the Gospel. He was driven to Huddersfield police station where he was put into a cell and held there. He was allowed to keep his Bible and hymn book, which meant he could pray and sing hymns. He was cooperative and calm throughout.
“10. During the time in custody, there was a changeover of police sergeants. A Sergeant Haigh came and asked to listen to the Claimant’s audio device, so they could hear what he had been preaching. The Sergeant listened to the audio and came back and said that no offence had been committed. In all, the Claimant was held in custody for six hours and then released without charge.”
Previous successful street preacher cases supported by The Christian Institute include: