BRISTOL, UK — A U.K. judge ruled that four street preachers, two from America and two from the United Kingdom, who sued police over what they considered a “sustained campaign of harassment” as they have faced criminal charges and were jailed — and some were prosecuted for their preaching, were “lawfully arrested” by police.
Mike Overd, one the “Bristol Four,” who was a plaintiff in the recent case that challenged police for a series of incidents, sought to hold law enforcement accountable for their constant interference with their street ministry activities. Most notably, the 2016 case in which he, along with fellow street preachers Mike Stockwell, Don Karns and Adrian Clark, were charged with violating the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998. As previously reported, the men had taken turns preaching outside of the Bristol City Centre while the others held signs or engaged in one-on-one conversation.
The men spoke on a variety of topics, including Islam, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuality, fornication, divorce — and also presented the gospel and took questions from those who stopped to listen.
But as some in the crowd became offended and rowdy, a police officer approached Overd, who was speaking at the time, informed him that he was “not welcome” and threatened arrest if he did not stop preaching.
As Overd proceeded to quote from John 3:16, he was subsequently taken into custody. Stockwell, Karns and Clark were also charged, but the charges were later dropped against Karns and Clark.
Overd and Stockwell proceeded to trial and were initially convicted of violating the Crime and Disorder Act, being fined nearly $2,500 each.
During the legal proceedings, prosecutor Ian Jackson argued before the court that preaching that Jesus is the only way to God “cannot be a truth” and that some passages of the Bible are not acceptable for the present day.
But Court of Appeal Judge Martin Picton, who was joined by two other judges, ruled that the prosecution could not sufficiently prove that the men were motivated by animus toward any people group as they “did no more than express [their] no doubt sincerely held religious beliefs as [they were] entitled to do.” Overd and Stockwell were subsequently acquitted.
Overd has had numerous other encounters with the police, and in 2014, an officer stated on BBC television that if business owners are “offended” by his preaching, they are to “record any evidence on their mobile phone and send it to us.” He also fought a case in court in which he was accused of making “homophobic” remarks, a conviction that was later overturned.
“The last decade has been crazy, really. [It has been] steadily getting worse from authorities and certainly an element of the general public,” plaintiff Mike Overd said in a video released by Christian Concern. “There are windows of grace and quietness from the police and the authorities, and then it all kicks off again.”
In December of last year, the preachers brought a civil action against Avon and Somerset Police in an effort to curb the police interference, claiming wrongful arrest, assault/trespass to the person/battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, misfeasance in public office and infringement of human rights.
Following a two-week hearing at Bristol County Court, Judge Alexander Ralton dismissed all of the claims and ruled that the actions taken by officers were lawful.
According to the Somerset County Gazette in the U.K., a further hearing at the Bristol County Court on Friday resulted in a denial of the street preachers’ “application for leave to appeal the ruling,” and Judge Ralton ordered the preachers to pay costs to Avon and Somerset Police.