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British street evangelists take police to court after repeated arrests

Mike Overd
Mike Overd, a street evangelist and client of the British group Christian Legal Centre in the U.K. (seen in this undated photo), has been charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act with "causing offense" for public remarks where he drew a comparison between Jesus Christ and Muhammad, September 2014. |

The British Christian street evangelists known as "the Bristol Four" are taking the police who arrested them in the summer of 2016 to court. 
 
In court proceedings that began Monday in Bristol County Court, Mike Overd, Don Karns, Mike Stockwell, and A.J. Clarke brought forward claims against the police for assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, misfeasance in a Public Office, and infringement of their Human Rights, specifically rights set forth in articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, according to Christian Concern

Overd is also challenging the police for what his attorneys say is an eight-year-long "sustained campaign of harassment" against him. The Christian Legal Centre is representing Overd and the three other evangelists. 

The crux of the court case against the police rests on a specific incident on July 6, 2016, when the cops arrested Overd while he and his friends were evangelizing on the street in front of a statue of John Wesley in Bristol City Centre. 

Video footage shows Overd being roughly pulled to the ground and screaming in pain and then being put in handcuffs and hauled into a police vehicle. The evangelist was detained in police custody for more than seven hours. 

During the preaching event, Overd and his fellow evangelists spoke about several touchy issues, including Islam and homosexuality, often quoting passages from the King James Version of the Bible. Though all four men were ultimately acquitted of the charges that were filed against them, in a subsequent trial the prosecutor said that quoting portions of the King James Bible ought to be considered as "a criminal matter" and "abuse."

To date, the police involved have never issued a formal apology for their conduct. 

"We have faced no alternative but to bring this case as the police must be held to account for their actions for what they did in July 2016 and moreover for their actions over the past eight years," Overd said in a statement before the hearing took place on Monday. 

“The freedom to preach the message of the gospel on the streets of the U.K. to the lost, is one of our fundamental rights in this country. If we lose that right, we will begin to lose every other freedom."

Freedom of speech is worthless unless it includes the right to offend, he continued. 

“The attitude and approach from the police is that if they receive a report that a Christian is being ‘offensive,’ they turn up arrest first, ask questions later. There has to be a cultural shift in British policing, not just in Somerset, but across the U.K.,” he added. 

Chief Executive of CLC Andrea Williams concurred, noting the police actions were aggressive and "shocking" and that the matter has profound implications for the state of English democracy.  

"The police should be defending freedom of speech, not clamping down on it," she argued. 

“We cannot allow the gospel to be shut out of public debate, and that is what is at stake in this crucial case.”

In August 2017, Overd was arrested and then released in Taunton after it was alleged that he said that gays go to Hell while preaching in the street in a shopping center. A petition that garnered thousands of signatures was launched in an attempt to get him banned from preaching there. A CLC spokesperson said at the time that Overd was held for approximately five hours and was never given an explanation as to what he did wrong.

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