Why are the police handcuffing street preachers?

May 2, 2021 by

by Paul Coleman, spiked:

British police are arresting and investigating people over entirely legal speech.

This week police in Uxbridge, Greater London, handcuffed, arrested and detained a 71-year-old grandfather for fear he might have offended someone.

John Sherwood has been a pastor in north London for 35 years. As part of his vocation, he preached not only from the pulpit but also in the open air – which he is lawfully allowed to do.

According to news reports and his colleague’s own account of events, on 23 April he preached from the closing section of the book of Genesis, which contains the allegedly offensive statement: ‘So God created mankind in his own image… male and female he created them.’ Building off these verses, he spoke about marriage being between one man and one woman – a view once held by the vast majority of Brits and the law of the land until the very recent past.

Police officers surrounded Sherwood, took away his Bible, and pulled him off the streets for an alleged breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act (which, incidentally, does not criminalise offence or insult). He was detained, questioned about his views on sexual morality, and held overnight. After 21 hours, police released him ‘under investigation’.

The same story has been told on countless streets across Britain in the past decade. A person says something allegedly offensive, heavy-handed police intervene, the person is arrested, detained, released, and the CPS choose not to prosecute. And – unless there is far more to this story than what is available in the footage or multiple accounts of the event – it is hard to imagine the CPS moving forward with a prosecution.

Wrongful-arrest lawsuits are hard to win and, even if successful, would simply involve a relatively small payout months or years down the line with no impact on policing policy or precedent. And so, as with many other examples before it, there will likely be no real consequences for dragging an elderly man away for engaging in what looks and sounds like wholly lawful activity.

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