A British street preacher who preaches against abortion has been awarded $4,500 along with attorney fees after a judge heard his lawsuit against a local police department following a wrongful arrest. The judge awarded him for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and violating his human rights.
David McConnell had been preaching in Huddersfield town center in December 2019 when he was arrested for “a hate related public order offense.” McConnell, who was supported in his case by The Christian Institute, was kept in police custody for about six hours before being released without charge.
While McConnell was preaching, some people passing by stopped to heckle him, asking him questions about sexuality and abortion – even though he had not been preaching on either subject at that time.
But he was subsequently arrested and taken to Huddersfield police station without being told the offense he had allegedly committed, other than the suggestion it was for “a hate related public order offense” and “for preaching on gay rights and abortion”. During his time in custody, one police sergeant listened to McConnell’s recording of his preaching and concluded that no offense had been committed, so the preacher was released without charge.
McConnell took legal action, and last month West Yorkshire Police admitted liability in court papers, agreeing to pay £3,250 in damages – plus his legal costs.
McConnell said: “I don’t blame the police for responding to the call. But they should have asked me for my side of the story instead of just arresting me.”
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“They also got it wrong by not telling me what they were arresting me for. Anyone who has ever watched TV knows the police have to tell you what law you’re supposed to have broken but these officers never did,” he added. “They just said ‘when you get to custody we’ll explain why you are arrested’.”
McConnell said that when he was released, the desk sergeant mentioned another case in which a judge upheld street preachers’ freedoms.
In that case, the judge said: “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”
McConnell concluded: “I’m thankful that the police have admitted what they did was unlawful. It was a very distressing experience for me. But I’m glad I can put it behind me.
“I have to say that, when I am preaching now, the police in Huddersfield are very good with me. I’m glad I’m able to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert said: “This was a clear breach of Mr McConnell’s human rights and a failure to follow the laws governing arrest and detention.
“West Yorkshire did the right thing by admitting liability and the court has issued judgment in favour of Mr McConnell.”
He added: “This case has re-affirmed the value and importance of free speech. Christian street preachers have got as much legal right to speak in public as anyone else.”
Calvert continued: “We are glad the police have admitted they broke the law but more needs to be done to prevent these kinds of cases. The public is very concerned about the chilling of free speech.”