Street preacher accepts £13,000 compensation after wrongful arrest


A Christian street preacher has accepted £13,000 in compensation from Greater Manchester Police after being arrested and detained for over 19 hours following comments he made on homosexuality.

John Craven was preaching in Manchester city centre in September 2011 when he was approached by two homosexual teenagers who asked him what he thought about gays.

Craven says that when he explained the Bible's stance on homosexuality, the two teenagers responded by kissing each other and making sexually suggestive acts. 

When they complained to a police officer that they had found Mr Craven's comments insulting, he was arrested by Police Constable Alistair McKittrick for a public order offence and was detained for over 19 hours.

He was arrested under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which criminalises the use of insulting words with the intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress.

While the police claim it was necessary to arrest him in order to conduct "a prompt and effective investigation" into the complaint, Mr Craven said this was not conveyed to him at the time.

The Christian Institute, which provided him with legal assistance, said he went nearly 15 hours without access to food, water or his medication for rheumatoid arthritis.

Mr Craven was only brought a bowl of cereal and a microwave meal after a friend complained to police about their treatment of him, The Christian Institute reports.

The Christian Institute said Mr Craven was protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom to manifest religious beliefs in Article 9 and freedom of expression, including the freedom to impart information and ideas without interference by a public authority, in Article 10.

Mr Craven has settled for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, and breach of his human rights just days before the case was due to go to court.

In addition to compensation, Greater Manchester Police will pay the legal fees of both parties, which amount to over £50,000.

Mr Craven said: "I never intended to cause anyone harassment, alarm or distress. In fact, quite the opposite. I preach the gospel which means good news and the love of God for all.

"The actions of the police have left me feeling nervous and anxious. I found the whole episode extremely distressing.

"It appears that the actions of the police were calculated to give me and other street preachers the impression that we could not preach the gospel in public without breaking the law and if we did we would be arrested."

Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, said: "Nobody should face 19 hours in custody for simply answering a question about their beliefs.

"The disgraceful way in which Mr Craven was treated fell well below what the public deserve. In terms of the infringement of religious liberty, it was one of the worst cases we have ever dealt with.

"Freedom of expression is a very basic human right. The very foundations of our liberty depend upon it. I hope that Greater Manchester Police learn lessons for the future from this case and make every effort to ensure that it never happens again.

"I am delighted for Mr Craven that a settlement has been reached."

Parliament recently amended Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which campaigners had long argued was infringing free speech.

As a result of the change, the College of Policing issued new guidance clarifying that insulting words or behaviour are not sufficient grounds for arrest.

Campaigners for the reform of Section 5 have suggested that Section 4A should be similarly amended.