Monday, 17 August 2009

Street preaching and the police - again

The Telegraph has covered the story of Miguel Hayworth, a street preacher in Manchester who was spoken to by the police on July 25.

Mr Hayworth’s side of the story is as follows:
“At 2pm, I was approached on more than one occasion by several police officers who falsely accused me, stating that I was inciting hatred with homophobic and racial comments. One plain-clothed officer, who was with the other two uniformed officers, said: 'It is against the law to preach and hand out tracts: preaching causes offence and handing out tracts is harassment and could result in an arrest.'”
For the police, Chief Inspector Chris Hill, of Greater Manchester Police, said:
“Police were called to St Ann's Square in Manchester city centre following complaints from members of the public who considered the comments being made by two street preachers as racist and homophobic. When spoken to, the men said they were quoting from the Bible. The officers confirmed they were entitled to preach on the street, but advised them offensive behaviour is not acceptable.”
You will notice that there are differences between the two accounts.

1. Mr. Hayworth says that officers falsely accused him, stating that he was inciting hatred. Mr. Hill implies that the officers made no accusations, but simply advised Mr. Hayworth and his co-evangelist that offensive behaviour was not acceptable.

2. Mr. Hayworth says that the officers told him that it was against the law to preach and hand out tracts, whereas Mr. Hill says that the officers confirmed they were entitled to preach on the street.

Someone’s story is not strictly accurate.

Intriguingly, the Telegraph tells us “The second officer, Mr Hayworth claimed, also warned him his actions were being videoed and recorded, and he stopped preaching.

Now, if the whole thing was videoed and recorded, and the recording made public, we would be able to hear for ourselves what exactly Mr. Hayworth had said - which would be helpful to know. But it would be even more helpful to know what the police said. Would the police have been happy to have their actions and words recorded? And if not, is there any way of actually finding out who is telling the truth?

I note that the Christian Legal Centre has instructed Paul Diamond, a religious rights barrister, and has also written to the police. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.

In the meantime, there is something that interests me. There have been several incidents in the last few years (e.g. this and this) when street preachers have been approached by police officers and either warned or told to stop. The police who approached Mr. Hayworth must surely have been aware that there was a strong chance that this story would make the press, and that there would be another “Police-curtailing-freedom-of-speech” story. What do the police actually think of this?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the key thing here is that police were called by members of the public who found the pair offensive.

I've seen people like this in Manchester and find them a very unattractive advertisement for your religion. I also think that roaring out against the abomination that is homosexuality, in a day and age when how many kids die of hunger every day is slightly distatesful and, yes, offensive.

Police caught between a rock and a hard place. Hardly signalling the end of free speech as we know it... Section 5 of the Public Order Act says that you can be arrested if you are doing something which is likely to cause harrassment alarm or distress so, actually, there was probably grounds to arrest but they took the sensible step of having a word.

In terms of them being recorded, I would think the police are referring to CCTV which covers this part of Manchester extensively (after our city centre was destroyed by those acting in the name of God and Ireland). The cameras don't have microphones.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Thanks for that.

I think the key thing here is that police were called by members of the public who found the pair offensive.

Undoubtedly

I've seen people like this in Manchester and find them a very unattractive advertisement for your religion. I also think that roaring out against the abomination that is homosexuality, in a day and age when how many kids die of hunger every day is slightly distatesful and, yes, offensive.

Yes, some Christians are embarrassing, and even plain wrong. But even saying what is right, true, and relevant will be offensive to some people.

Police caught between a rock and a hard place.

Very true.

Hardly signalling the end of free speech as we know it... Section 5 of the Public Order Act says that you can be arrested if you are doing something which is likely to cause harrassment alarm or distress so, actually, there was probably grounds to arrest but they took the sensible step of having a word.

As a libertarian, I believe that the Public Order Acts 1986 is flawed, and that some parts of it should be repealed. This is obviously a matter for MPs. There is also the matter of the guidance the Home Office gives concerning the way the Act is applied, which again, is no concern of police officers. And I do think that both the act itself, and the Home Office guidance do threaten free speech.

And then there is the matter in which police use the Public Order Act, as witness the case of Mr. Robin Page.

In terms of them being recorded, I would think the police are referring to CCTV which covers this part of Manchester extensively (after our city centre was destroyed by those acting in the name of God and Ireland). The cameras don't have microphones.

Ah yes. CCTVs. Another thing that Libertarians don't tend to like!

leg-iron said...

Anon:

I think the key thing here is that police were called by members of the public who found the pair offensive.

I think that's the key thing too. Not so long ago, anyone saying something people didn't agree with would be ignored or dismissed as 'crank'.

Now it's a call to the police which amounts to 'Sir, sir, he said a bad word and made me sad'. Really. If you look at it with no pro or anti bias at all, that's really what you see.

That's what the people of this country have become. Infantile. If someone says something you don't like, ignore them and move on. Sticks and stones... does anyone say that any more?

People stab and shoot each other in this country now. In today's papers, a gang set fire to a woman's hair on a train and another gang tried to kick a dog to death. And yet we have people calling the police over words they disagree with. The police respond and harass a street preacher who is doing nothing illegal.

All sense of perspective is gone.

The Jehovah's Witnesses who visit sometimes insist Armageddon is at hand. I'm beginning to wonder.