A street preacher has won compensation from Dorset Police for being manhandled and unlawfully prevented from preaching from his truck.
The incident took place in Blandford Forum town centre in Dorset on 22 April, 2020.
Recorded footage shows Eton-educated Dominic Muir, the chief executive of registered Christian charities Now Believe and Jesus Fields, standing on the back of his truck on a mostly deserted street. Dominic begins by singing and preaching from the Bible with a microphone.
Muir was told by an officer eight minutes into his message: “I am going to have to move you on.”
Due to Covid restrictions at the time, people were not permitted to leave their houses except for groceries or to work if they were a part of essential services.
“I am going to need you to produce some paperwork to say that you are allowed to do that here,” the policeman told Muir.
Muir politely told him that he needed five minutes to give his talk. The policeman reluctantly relented but emphasised that he had a limited amount of time to preach. Muir claims that after three minute,s the officer shouted: “Time’s up!”, mounted Mr Muir’s truck and grabbed him by the left arm. He was then forced to leave the area.
Mr Muir told media persons that he felt ‘humiliated’. “I was treated like a potential criminal”, he said.
The Christian Legal Centre assisted Mr Muir to write a letter to the Chief Constable of Dorset Police, seeking compensation. Dorset Police admitted that the officer had acted unlawfully and paid £1250 in damages.
Lawyers argued that the officer’s sole intention was to stop Mr Muir from exercising his right to free speech, which was not prohibited by the Covid regulations.
“I have no doubt that if I had continued to preach or sing, I would have been handcuffed, arrested and taken to the police station. During the pandemic I have honoured social distancing, but I also have a legitimate job to do, which is to preach the gospel. For centuries, street preaching in the UK was an honoured profession that was respected and deemed essential to people’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. To be shut down by the police like this represented a huge shift for me and shows the extent of society’s secularisation,” Mr Muir said.
Mr Muir hoped that there would be a “respect accorded to Christian ministers and charities that seek to bring hope to those in desperate situations whose greatest need is their spiritual need.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, told media persons, “Christian ministry in church or on the street should never have been deemed as ‘non-essential’ nor as a problem which needed to go away during lockdown. This must never happen again”.
During the lockdown, Christian ministry in general was treated as non-essential by the UK government, which led to police clampdowns on street preaching and some Christian homeless ministries.
“Dominic Muir had not broken lockdown restrictions. He was singing and preaching about the hope of Jesus Christ on the back of his truck at a time of great uncertainty and need for many. We welcome that Dorset Police have recognised that they acted unlawfully. We call for greater respect and understanding from the police to street preachers now and beyond the pandemic,” Ms Williams said.
(Picture courtesy: Facebook – Now Believe)