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Bristol street preachers guilty of public order offences

Wed 01 Mar 2017
By Alex Williams

Image by simonholliday.com

Two street preachers have been ordered to pay £2,000 after they were found guilty of public order offences in Bristol.

Following a four day trial at Bristol Magistrates Court, Michael Overd (above) and Michael Stockwell were convicted of "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".

According to their lawyers, they were ordered to pay £2016 in legal fees.

The pair were among four people preaching inside Broadmead Shopping Centre on 6th July 2016 before being arrested after police decided that Mr Overd was "causing a disturbance"

The court heard how they criticised Islam, Catholicism, Jehovah Witness and Mormonism, and quoted John 14:6 which says "I am the way, the truth and the life".

A public prosecutor argued the men's behaviour constituted a clear threat to violence and suggested quoting parts of the King James Bible in the context of modern British society "must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter".

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which has been supporting the pair, announced they will appeal.

She said: "Mike Overd and Michael Stockwell were saying nothing that wouldn't be heard at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park - presenting the claims of the Bible, answering the crowd's questions and objections and responding calmly to abuse which was hurled at them.

"For a court to rule that this breaks the law is extraordinary."

Below is a video of the day Michael Overd was arrested in Bristol.

 

Mr Stockwell said: "Men should be able to proclaim the truth and have diverse differences in the public forum, agreeing to disagree without harm or repercussions.

"The Police and Court shut down the 'free speech' to avoid public disorder. It is a green light to the Islamists and any other radical groups to silence speech."

Mr Overd added: "Where is our freedom? If you don't like what I said, just move on and let others hear the message, but they want to end the free speech."

Andrea Williams went on to say: "It is extraordinary that the prosecution, speaking on behalf of the state, could say that the Bible contains abusive words which, when spoken in public, constitute a criminal offence.

"Today's ruling, in effect, states that Bible is offensive and contains illegal speech which should not be shared in public.

"This is a very serious state of affairs and the men will be considering next steps to challenge this decision."

Meanwhile, a Criminal Behaviour Order is also being pursued against Mr Overd - the hearing regarding this has been delayed until May 2017.

No further action was taken against two other people originally detained along with Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell.

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