LONDON — The Metropolitan Police Service in London has agreed to pay the equivalent of $3,000 U.S. dollars to a street preacher who was arrested in February as he refused to leave after an offended man called police to claim that the preacher was being “Islamophobic.” After being freed, the preacher was driven out of the area and dropped off at a bus stop, where he would have been stranded if a good Samaritan had not paid for his ticket.
The Christian Legal Centre, which offered assistance to Oluwole Ilesanmi, pastor of Redeemed Christian Church of God, had written a pre-action letter to the police regarding the violation of the preacher’s rights. The Metropolitan Police Service consequently agreed to pay the pastor damages for claims of false imprisonment, humiliation and mental trauma.
Ilesanmi will also deliver a petition on Tuesday to Home Secretary Priti Patel and London Mayor Sadiq Khan in asking the government to work to protect street preachers and the freedom of speech. The petition has generated over 40,000 signatures as of press time.
A letter will additionally be delivered to Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, which is also being sent to every chief constable in the U.K, requesting specialized training on the rights of street preachers.
“Many street preachers have found themselves in trouble. This has included being arrested, and prosecuted, despite the law recognizing their rights to both manifest and express their religious beliefs,” the letter reads.
“None of the clients we have assisted has been convicted,” it notes. “Accordingly, that might suggest the criminal justice system is working appropriately; however, the problem is that many officers simply do not understand the interplay between the public order legislation and the right to freedom of speech.”
As previously reported, Ilesanmi 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. Police later admitted that the preacher had been transported out of the area to prevent him from returning.
“I am glad that the police have recognized that it was not right to arrest me for preaching from the Bible,” he said in Monday’s statement announcing the pre-action settlement. “It was traumatic being arrested and left many miles from my home. But God was always with me and even though I was left in a place I did not know, I was determined to get back to Southgate and start preaching the gospel again.”
“Critiquing ideas is often motivated by love for others and not hate. The result of this also chills free speech through self-censorship,” also remarked Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.
“While the extent of the public outrage at street preacher Olu’s arrest was unique, what he faced from the police and members of the public was not. We are constantly supporting street preachers who are being silenced and penalized on our streets by the police, and their poor treatment and the injustice they face is too quickly forgotten,” she said.
“So whilst we are pleased that the police have agreed to pay compensation for what has happened to Pastor Olu, we now need to see tangible action from the government, the police and the Mayor of London, offering assurances that Christian street preachers are free to preach the gospel within the law without fear of prosecution.”