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First Christian street preacher to be prosecuted for breaching the Covid lockdown has his fine dropped

October 2021 | by Evangelical Times

Mike Overd (CREDIT: Christian Concern)
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The Crown Prosecution Service has dropped its case against open-air preacher Mike Overd, who had become the first Christian preacher to fall foul of coronavirus laws during the first English lockdown.

Mr Overd, who is no stranger to controversy, had been carrying out his street ministry in Taunton town centre, Somerset, during March and April last year.

While all the churches were closed due to the coronavirus regulations during the pandemic, Mr Overd, 56, was preaching and offering prayer and Bibles in his usual spot.

A member of the public complained about him, and officers from Avon and Somerset police came to confront him.

Officers warned Mr Overd that he had to go home under the new coronavirus restrictions, but Mr Overd said he was fulfilling his duties as an evangelist, offering pastoral support to those struggling at a time of national crisis, while adhering to official social distancing rules of keeping two metres apart.

After he refused to go home, officers packed up Mr Overd’s Bibles and removed him from the area. He was then issued with a fixed penalty notice for £60.

The arrest divided opinion and caused controversy among Christian circles, with some considering the lockdown restrictions a huge threat to freedom of religion, and others concerned about the spread of Covid-19.

According to the Christian Legal Centre, which was supporting Mr Overd, as the pandemic unfolded, there were a number of incidents of Christian preachers being arrested and police raiding and shutting down places of worship as a result of the regulations.

It is estimated that more than 85,000 Covid fines have been issued over the course of the pandemic, with calls for them to be reviewed and even scrapped entirely.

Contesting the fine, a year and a half later Mr Overd was set to have his case heard at Weston-super-Mare Magistrates Court on Monday 6 September 2021.

His case was also backed by Christian theologian Dr Martin Parsons, who reported to the CPS that street preaching is an important part of Evangelical Christianity, even during epidemics.

Dr Parsons said, ‘Street preaching and other forms of open-air evangelism in the UK … is seen by evangelical Christians as being an essential part of fulfilling Christ’s command to preach the Gospel to all people, particularly those who are unlikely to ever enter a church.’

He concluded his report stating that, from the perspective of theology and church history, the use of coronavirus regulations to prohibit street preaching ‘raises significant issues relating to the development of freedom of religion in British constitutional history’.

The CPS decided to drop the case, stating, ‘The prosecution is no longer proceeding.’

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