The arrest of a 71-year-old street preacher in May has been met with widespread criticism for the way in which the police handled the situation and went beyond their statutory powers.
According to reports, Pastor John Sherwood was standing on stepladders preaching in the open air when he was pulled away by police officers, placed in handcuffs, questioned in a police station, and held overnight.
He had been accused by some members of the public of making homophobic comments outside Uxbridge Station in West London.
However, other passers-by videoed the incident and could be heard remonstrating against both the arrest – on charges of breaching the Public Order Act – and the manner in which he was restrained.
He had been asked to step down and stop preaching, but Mr Sherwood said it was his democratic right to preach his religion freely.
According to press reports, the grandfather claimed he was left bruised after police cuffed his hands behind his back.
Police said they had received complaints the man had been making ‘allegedly homophobic comments’, and arrested him under the Public Order Act.
The allegation was that he was involved in ‘hate speech’, using abusive or insulting words to cause harm to someone else. However, he denied this, and was later released without charge.
Mr Sherwood, who has been a pastor for 35 years, said, ‘I wasn’t making any homophobic comments; I was just defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.
‘I was doing what my job description says, which is to preach the gospel in open air as well as in a church building.’
The arrest prompted widespread criticism. In a statement, the Protestant Truth Society said, ‘The police are now becoming the woke enforcers of an anti-Christian agenda. They arrest, unlawfully, those who are expressing politically incorrect views.
‘Freedom of expression is a vital and precious heritage of this nation’s Parliamentary democracy.
‘It will be a shameful tragedy if the agents of the state are allowed to become an anti-Christian enforcement agency. But Christians will continue to preach the gospel, whatever the state does.’
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said, ‘Street preachers are free to preach the gospel in the public arena. They are also free to offend, and so they should be.
‘The police don’t always seem to appreciate that fact, but those who hear the gospel and don’t want to hear it are also free to … walk on by, and they are free to mock and scorn.
‘Let us return to heckling and laughing, rather than running like a cry baby to the nearest officer of the law and screaming about hurt feelings.’