LONDON — Police in the United Kingdom have admitted that they drove an arrested street preacher miles away from the location where he had been speaking in order to prevent him from returning.
“As the man indicated that he wished to continue his activities at Southgate tube station, officers felt it necessary to take the man some distance from the station in order to prevent a breach of the peace at that location,” the Metropolitan Police Service in London told the outlet Premiere.
A spokesperson initially told Premiere that police merely walked the man to the nearby police station, stating that the preacher’s account of being taken to a “remote place” was “not correct.”
“The man who was arrested was walked approx. 200m away, de-arrested and shown to a nearby bus stop,” he said.
However, as journalists continued to press about the issue, eventually police stated the initial information was an “incorrect response.”
“Having walked away from Southgate tube station with officers, the man was driven approx. 3.5 miles to Hadley Wood in north London, where he was left at a bus stop,” the Metropolitan Police Service said.
“The arrest was made in order to prevent a breach of the peace, both due to reports to police about the man’s behavior and concerns for his own welfare were he to continue to engage with members of the public at the station. The man was later de-arrested,” it stated.
As previously reported, Oluwole Ilesanmi, pastor of Redeemed Christian Church of God, had been preaching outside of Southgate Station on Feb. 23 when Ambrosine Shitrit of the organization Eye On Antisemitism noticed that a man was taking issue with the preaching.
She got out of her car and began filming with her phone.
“I thought he (Ilesanmi) was about to be assaulted,” Ambrosine told Christian Concern. “The preacher was fearless, but if I hadn’t started filming, he would have been attacked. The preacher was not breaching the peace and in no way had he been Islamophobic.”
She says that she encouraged the man to simply exchange ideas with the preacher rather than make threats, and the two began to debate each other’s religion for a time.
Two police officers soon arrived, stating that they had received a call that Ilesanmi was being “Islamophobic.” The complainant left, and the officers told Ilesanmi to leave as well.
“What are you doing here?” the responding officer asked, according to video footage recorded by Ambrosine.
“I am preaching,” Ilesanmi advised.
“I am going to require you to go away,” the officer stated.
“You can never!” Ilesanmi exclaimed.
“Okay, then I will arrest you for breach of peace, plain and simple,” the officer threatened.
“What breach of peace?” Ilesanmi asked.
“It’s what you’re doing at the moment. You’re posing problems. You’re disturbing people’s days, and you’re breaching their peace,” the officer asserted. He then repeated, “If you won’t go away voluntarily, we will have to arrest you.”
Ilesanmi again refused to leave. “I will not go away because I need to tell them the truth,” he replied, and resumed preaching.
“Jesus is the only way, the truth and life, and nobody …” he began, but was quickly interrupted by the officer.
“I appreciate that, but nobody wants to listen to that,” the officer interjected. “They want you to go away.”
“Oh, you don’t want to listen to that? You will listen when you’re dead,” Ilesanmi warned.
The officer then placed Ilesanmi in handcuffs, while his partner another grabbed the Bible from the preacher’s hand.
“Don’t take my Bible away,” Ilesanmi pleaded.
“You should have thought of that before you were racist,” the officer replied.
Ilesanmi says that he was then transported to the police station, but was not taken inside. After being searched, and as he advised that he did not wish to go home yet but wanted to continue to preach, Ilesanmi was dropped off miles away at a small bus stop area.
A bus pulled up to the area, and Ilesanmi presented his Oyster pass, which would entitle him to a ride within the London transport zone. However, the driver told Ilesanmi that 84 Metro Line buses don’t accept Oyster cards, and that he would have to get down.
Ilesanmi, 63, would have been stranded had it not been for another passenger who decided to pay for his ticket.
Ilesanmi then went back to Southgate Station, where he continued to preach for two hours undisturbed.
The preacher, along with Christian Concern, continues to refute the police’s version of events. While the Metropolitan Police Service now says that Ilesanmi was transported 3.5 miles away to Hadley Wood, Ilesanmi’s bus ticket shows that he was actually taken 5.2 miles away to Wrotham Park.
Police also assert that “officers checked that he had a bank card” so that he could obtain a ride home on the bus. However, Ilesanmi notes that he did not have a bank card, but an Oyster pass, which was not acceptable to the 84 Metro Line. Even if he did have a bank card, the transit system only accepts cash payments.
“Oluwole was not taken to Hadley Wood. He was taken to Wrotham Park which is some distance away from Hadley Wood and is outside the London Transport zone,” Christian Concern reports.
“He had an Oyster card with him, which was not accepted on the bus. He is clear that he did not have a bank card on him when the police searched him,” the organization states. “Bank cards are in any case not accepted on the 84 Metro Line bus which he eventually caught. Furthermore, there are no ATMs anywhere near the place where the police left him.”
The situation has now resulted in the creation of a petition to ask Home Secretary Sajid Javid to “investigate what guidance and training is being given to police officers nationwide to ensure that they protect the freedom to preach in public.”
“Christian street preachers should be free to share the gospel, even where it means challenging the beliefs of others,” the petition reads in part. “The law rightly protects freedom of speech, even if it offends, shocks or disturbs others. But too often, police officers have shown themselves either to be ignorant of this freedom, or unwilling to uphold it. This leads to a chilling effect, where people are increasingly unwilling to say what they believe, for fear of arrest.”