Court rejects attempts to curtail street preacher's ministry

Preacher Mike Overd(Facebook/Mike Overd)

A High Court judge has rejected an attempt by police to limit a Christian man's street preaching. 

Avon and Somerset Police had been seeking an injunction against Mike Overd, from Taunton, that would have prevented him from preaching in a single town or parish for more than 20 minutes a day. 

The injunction also sought to stop Mr Overd from using a loudspeaker, standing on a soap box, using visual aids, placards and signs showing the reality of abortion, going withing 80 yards of a Taunton abortion clinic, and "breaching the peace". 

The police were seeking the injunction under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which represented Mr Overd, called the police application "heavy-handed" and voiced concerns that anti-social behaviour regulations are being increasingly used by police to suppress legitimate freedom of speech.

In the end, Judge HHJ Cotter QC agreed only to prohibit Mr Overd from using amplification when preaching, and calling abortionists 'murderers'. 

The prohibition will remain in place until July 2022. 

Responding to the ruling, Mr Overd said: "It is sad that the injunction was brought against me in the first place, but I am pleased that the police having considered the evidence that we put forward and arguments raised by my lawyers, recognised that so many of the restrictions that they had initially asked for, were completely unnecessary."

Mr Overd has not shied away from preaching about subjects like abortion and homosexuality on the streets of Taunton. 

Since 2011, he been prosecuted five times and arrested four times by Avon and Somerset police.  He also been interviewed on a voluntary basis on three separate occasions and issued with four Section 35 dispersal orders.  None of these has ever led to any conviction. 

Mr Overd is now planning to bring a harrassment claim against the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police in December. 

"I have faced nearly constant harassment by the authorities for preaching for nearly 10 years. Everything has been tried by the police to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for me to preach," he said. 

"This is the second time the police have brought an application for an injunction against me, and they are running out of options. I never called anyone a murderer, so I was happy to agree not to do this. I am happy not to use an amp, because I have a pretty loud voice and I appreciate that not everyone wants to hear the message.

"It is very concerning that the police see Christian preachers as a problem, even an enemy, when I and other preachers like me are just saying what the Bible says."

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams said that the threat to the liberties of street preachers may soon affect church pastors.

"What we have found at the Christian Legal Centre is that police around the country often believe that if someone is offended by a message that they don't agree with, a crime must have been committed," she said. 

"This simply is not the case and has led to many false arrests and prosecutions. It has to be accepted that Mike's messages can be hard-hitting, but it is not the place of the state to police his message.

"We welcome today's ruling, but Mike's case shows that unless we stand up for the preachers, there is a real risk that eventually they will come for the 'moderate' Christians; the pastors who preach and the everyday Christians who talk to their friends about controversial subjects."