A Christian street preacher has won a claim against West Yorkshire Police for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of human rights.
David McConnell commenced legal action against the force after being arrested and held for about six hours in December 2019.
West Yorkshire Police admitted liability in papers filed with the court in May this year and have now agreed to pay the street preacher £3,250 plus legal costs.
David McConnell said, “I was just preaching the gospel to a crowd of about 50 when some people came up and started asking me all sorts of hostile questions. I tried to give straightforward answers but they just got angrier and angrier. They wanted to ask me about sexuality and abortion. I hadn’t been preaching about these things. It was them who had brought the questions up. One of them obviously knew what they were doing because they called the police and claimed I’d caused ‘harassment, alarm and distress’.
“I don’t blame the police for responding to the call. But they should have asked me for my side of the story instead of just arresting me. They also got it wrong by not telling me what they were arresting me for. Anyone who has ever watched TV knows the police have to tell you what law you’re supposed to have broken but these officers never did. They just said ‘when you get to custody we’ll explain why you are arrested’.
“At the station the desk sergeant was a very reasonable person. I was allowed to keep my bible and a hymn book in my prison cell. Meanwhile he listened to the recording of my preaching and quickly realised there’d been a mistake and that I had not broken any laws. When he released me he mentioned the famous case of Redmond-Bate which upheld street preachers’ freedoms. The judge in that case said: ‘Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’
“I’m thankful that the police have admitted what they did was unlawful. It was a very distressing experience for me. But I’m glad I can put it behind me. I have to say that, when I am preaching now, the police in Huddersfield are very good with me”, Mr McConnell said.
“I’m glad I’m able to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, which supported Mr McConnell’s case, said:
“This was a clear breach of Mr McConnell’s human rights and a failure to follow the laws governing arrest and detention. West Yorkshire did the right thing by admitting liability and the court has issued judgment in favour of Mr McConnell.
“The £3,250 in damages is about par for the course in cases like this. The legal costs will be another few thousand pounds.
“This case has re-affirmed the value and importance of free speech. Christian street preachers have got as much legal right to speak in public as anyone else”.
(The Christian Institute)