Two street preachers, who were arrested in 2016 and charged with using ‘threatening’ or offensive words, have been acquitted.
Mike Overd and Michael Stockwell were convicted of religiously aggravated public order convictions in February 2017. They had been arrested for preaching at a Bristol shopping centre in July 2016, along with two other men. In February, the court had dismissed the case against a third man, Adrian Clark, ruling that there was no case to answer.
Video evidence submitted to the court shows Mr Overd being interrupted and forcibly removed from the scene by a police officer, who arrived more than an hour after the preaching began.
In February, the court found Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell 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’.
The court ordered the two preachers to pay £2,016 each in fines and costs. Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell appealed the convictions and have now been acquitted.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, called the new ruling a victory for freedom of speech. She commented: ‘This is a fantastic victory for freedom of speech and particularly the freedom of Christians to preach the good news of the gospel.
‘The Bible and its teachings are the foundation of our society and provided many of the freedoms and protections that we still enjoy today. At a time where Christians are becoming increasingly fearful about expressing their beliefs in the public space, this is a welcome and needed result. We are grateful the judge made the right decision today’.