Two Street Preachers Convicted of Public Order Offenses
Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell were convicted on February 28, 2017 after a public prosecutor claimed that quoting parts of the King James Bible in the context of modern British society "must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter". After a four-day trial, the men were found guilty under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, for using "threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, thereby, and the offence was religiously aggravated."
Mr. Overd and his three friends were preaching in Bristol's Broadmead Shopping Centre on July 6, 2016, taking turns to preach, and as they did so, a crowd gathered. At points, the crowd was loud and aggressive, with some swearing and being abusive towards the men. There was also, however, debate between the preachers and members of the crowd, especially on the differences between Islam and Christian belief. Several hecklers appeared to be supportive of Islam. After complaints from the public, the men were arrested.
Chief Inspector Andy Williams said, "The police have to strike the balance between the right to freedom of expression and free speech and behaviour that causes a member of the public to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of what is said or done." During the four-day trial, prosecutor Ian Jackson, claimed: "To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth." The prosecutor argued that free speech must yield to multicultural reality in modern Britain, and that there was a clear threat to violence due to the words of the preachers and the criticism of Islam. The court has awarded legal costs of £2016 against both Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell. A Criminal Behaviour Order is being pursued against Mr Overd, with the hearing delayed until May 2017.
Sources: Christian Concern, ITV and BBC