Street preacher who criticised Islam found not guilty of hate speech by court

Shaun O'Sullivan(Photo: Christian Legal Centre)

A Christian street preacher arrested for hate speech after he criticised Muhammad and Buddha has been found not guilty at a court hearing.

Shaun O'Sullivan, 32, who used to heckle street preachers prior to his conversion, was arrested in Swindon town centre on 11 March 2020 after a member of the public complained that he had made "racist" comments.

While preaching, a member of the public suggested that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

In reply, Mr O'Sullivan explained why he disagreed and referenced an Islamic Hadith's accounts of Muhammad engaging in sexual activity and marrying a six-year-old girl.

In his sermon, Mr O'Sullivan suggested that Muhammad would today be regarded as a paedophile and contrasted this with Jesus who loved children and treated women with respect.

He was arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for allegedly causing religious and racially-motivated "harassment, alarm and distress".

During questioning by police, he was asked whether he had been comparing Jesus and Muhammad in order to devalue Muhammad.

In response, he said: "No, I was just stating facts."

He was found not guilty at Swindon Magistrates' Court last month.

Mr O'Sullivan, who was supported in his case by the Christian Legal Centre, said he was "relieved" by the verdict.

He said that people should be free to debate different religions in public without fear of arrest or imprisonment.

"It was never my intention to offend or upset people. My intention was to tell the truth based on the evidence in the Bible and Islamic scripture, and when you do that in public there is always someone who will be offended. Offending someone is not and never should be seen as a crime," he said. 

He added, "We must be free to critique other religions and to debate in public without being accused of being racist and ending up in a prison cell and in court."