Street preachers to appeal judgment on arrests

Mike Overd and three other street preachers are challenging the decision of police to arrest them in 2016.(Photo: Christian Legal Centre)

Four Christian street preachers are to appeal a court ruling that said their arrests in Bristol City Centre in 2016 were lawful.

Mike Overd, Don Karns, Mike Stockwell and AJ Clarke are being supported in their case by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC). 

They were arrested after complaints from members of the public who said they had been "offended" by their preaching. 

In footage of the arrest captured on a body cam, Mr Overd is told by an officer that he is causing a disturbance "that is aggravating people" and that he is engaging in "anti-social behaviour".

The CLC says police should have dealt with hecklers in the crowd who were being abusive and threatening. 

All four street preachers were eventually acquitted in the courts and launched a civil action against the police for damages. 

Last December, Judge Ralton ruled that police had not acted unlawfully and dismissed their claim. 

"There is the tension between freedom of expression on the one hand and harassment, alarm and distress caused by the expression," he commented at the time.

The High Court has now granted permission to the four men to appeal Judge Ralton's ruling. 

Mr Justice Henshaw said they appeared to "have a real prospect of success on their contention that the very limited second-hand information which the arresting officers had about the actual contents of the claimants' speeches ... did not provide grounds for reasonable suspicion that the claimants were committing or had committed a racially or religiously aggravated public order offence."

"Rather than this being a case of the claimants' speech being so provocative that members of the crowd might 'without behaving wholly unreasonably' be moved to violence (Redmond-Bate), the main problem lay with a number of audience members already known to be dangerous who were themselves liable to instigate unlawful violence," Justice Henshaw said.

The appeal will now be heard on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Overd said he was "very pleased" that the judge had granted permission to appeal.

"The police must be held to account for their actions," he said.

"The freedom to preach the message of the gospel on the streets of the UK to the lost is one of our fundamental rights in this country. If we lose that right, we will begin to lose every other freedom."

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams said freedom of expression must be protected.

"Mr Overd and his friends are motivated by love. They want to share the good news of Jesus with people who might not otherwise hear it. Sometimes that means addressing the false claims of other religions or ideologies," she said.

"The freedom to express only that which society deems inoffensive is not freedom at all.

"The police should be defending the freedom of speech, not clamping down on it. This is an important case for Christian freedom on our streets and we will stand with these four men until they receive justice."