Case dropped against Christian volunteer who was fined as he helped the homeless during lockdown

Jan Niedojadlo is encouraging others facing similar fines to contest them and not be "intimidated into silence and inaction".(Photo: Christian Concern)

Police have dropped their case against a Christian voluntary worker who was fined as he offered assistance to homeless people during lockdown.

Jan Niedojadlo, 56, was volunteering with the Lord's Soup Kitchen in Taunton in April 2020 when he was slapped with a £60 fine by Avon and Somerset Police for supposedly being out of his home without a valid reason. 

The Lord's Soup Kitchen provided hot meals for the homeless in Taunton every Sunday afternoon from January to April 2020.

While volunteering with the service, Niedojadlo would meet members of the homeless community and tell them where they could find food during the lockdown. He would also pray for them and preach from the Bible. 

He was preaching to one homeless woman on 4 April 2020 when he was approached by a community support officer who asked why he was out during lockdown.

He told the officer that he was volunteering for a Christian organisation and was therefore exempt from the regulations. 

However, police officers were called to the scene, and he was fined and charged with being away from home without a valid reason.

This was despite government Covid regulations permitting people to leave their homes to perform voluntary work during the lockdown.

Karen King, organiser of the Lord's Kitchen, confirmed as part of the case brought to court this year that the service was allowed to operate under covid regulations and that Mr Niedojadlo was part of the team delivering the voluntary service.

Expert witness Dr Martin Parsons said that the case represented a potentially "significant conflict between this aspect of freedom of religion both in terms of how it has been developed in British constitutional history and the interpretation of current Coronavirus regulations by Avon and Somerset Police."

In a victory for Mr Niedojadlo, the case has now been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) because "it is not in the public interest".

He welcomed the CPS' decision but questioned why he was charged in the first place.

"I am relieved that the court has seen sense, but the case should never have got this far," he said. 

"In April 2020 when the whole country was being told to 'stay at home to save lives', the lives of the homeless were especially in danger and were forgotten.

"There are significant issues with homelessness in the Taunton area and the support I and we were providing was a lifeline at an extremely difficult time.

"The whole purpose of me being out on the streets was to bring hope to the homeless.

"The attitude of the community support officer and the police towards me was unbelievably hostile and dismissive. I was treated like a nuisance. There was a lack of respect, humanity and understanding of what Christian outreach and preaching is and why it is important.

"I hope my case will serve to help others, who may have been treated similarly, to contest any fines they have received and not to be intimidated into silence and inaction."

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mr Niedojadlo in his case, said police hostility towards Christians helping their community was clearly not in the public interest.

"Christian preaching and outreach to the most vulnerable on our streets has a long and revered history in this country. For centuries it has played a vital role in meeting communities' material, emotional and spiritual needs, especially for the homeless," she said. 

"This pandemic, and cases such as Jan's, has exposed how as a society we are forgetting how important the role of the church and Christian outreach is in our communities.

"All Jan was doing was making the homeless aware of where they could get a warm meal and of the love that Jesus has for them at an especially vulnerable time.

"Christians, whether preaching or supporting the homeless have been continually met with hostility by the police and have been fined and even arrested. How is this in the public interest?

"We are pleased that the courts have seen sense in this case, and hope that fines against other preachers and voluntary workers will also be thrown out."