A British policing watchdog is set to investigate the arrest of a London street preacher, which sparked widespread outrage online. The man, named only as “Olu,” was detained outside Southgate Underground station in North London over the weekend. His crime? Preaching the Gospel in the public square.
In its latest statement, London’s Metropolitan Police noted that a complaint had been lodged with regards to the conduct of the officers attending the scene, adding that the incident would now be reviewed.
“A complaint has been received from a third-party regarding the actions of the officers who attended, and this is being reviewed by the borough’s Professional Standards Unit,” the Borough Commander Helen Millichap said, according to concerned former British MP, David Burrowes, who emailed the department.
The Met insisted that it “respects and upholds the rights of all individuals to practice freedom of speech, and this includes street preachers of all religions and backgrounds,” according to the statement posted by Burrowes.
The police commander continued:
“In this instance, officers were responding to a call where a member of the public had raised concerns about his language. If an incident reported to us is perceived as being a potential hate crime, it is only right that we investigate. That is the role of the police, even if a decision is subsequently made that their actions are not criminal. In this case, it was deemed appropriate to remove the man from the area.”
You can get up to speed on the shocking case by checking out the interview below:
What actually happened?
In a video of the incident posted to Twitter, officers can be seen forcefully asking the preacher to stop, before arresting him on a rather baffling charge of “breaching the peace.”
A Christian preacher this afternoon was arrested at Southgate station London N14 for preaching about Jesus . @CConcern the police told him it’s because public had said he was being islamophobic . We have the full video and wondered when preaching was now illegal ? @Campaign4T pic.twitter.com/ZxC1DhlZCf
— EyeOnAntisemitism (@AntisemitismEye) February 23, 2019
“What are you doing here?” the officer asked the preacher, who was heralding the Gospel near Southgate Underground station in London.
“I am preaching,” he simply replied.
“I am going to require you to go away,” the police officer stated.
“Never,” the man responded.
“Well then, then I will arrest you for a breach of peace,” the police said.
“What breach of peace?” asked the Christian man.
“It’s what you’re doing at the moment,” the policeman explained. “You’re causing problems — you’re disturbing people’s days and you’re breaching their peace. If you won’t go away voluntarily, we will have to arrest you.”
“I will not go away, because I need to tell them the truth — because Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life,” the preacher responded.
“But nobody wants to listen to that,” the officer snapped back. “They want you to go away.”
At this point, the officer handcuffed the man, before an additional officer snatched his Bible out of his hands.
“Don’t take my Bible away,” the man cried.
“You should have thought about that before being racist!” the officer replied.
Faithwire reached out to the Metropolitan Police for more information surrounding the incident. The police admitted that, despite the officer’s comments accusing the preacher of being “racist,” nothing of this nature had been said by the Christian man. They also noted that “no language of this nature was used in the presence of officers.”
“The initial report suggested some Islamophobic language had been used,” the police force told Faithwire. “However nobody has made a formal allegation to this effect and no language of this nature was used in the presence of officers.”
The police added that the man was subsequently “de-arrested” and that “no further action was necessary.”
According to UK-based religious freedom watchdog group Christian Concern, Olu was “was dropped off in an unfamiliar suburb without enough money to get home” following his shocking arrest.
“Thankfully, a kind member of the public gave him some money, but what did the preacher do next?” the group’s Facebook post added. “He went straight back to Southgate tube station and continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that same evening.”
What is the law on free speech in the UK?
The United Kingdom’s free speech laws are governed by the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 10, the section that relates to freedom of expression, reads as follows:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
Of course, this comes with responsibility.
As Article 10 states, these freedoms “may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
As such, an arrest made on account of “breaching the peace,” must only be enforced if the police officer is convinced that “a breach of the peace had or would occur” and that “it related to harm which was actually done or likely to be done to a person or, in his/her presence, their property.”
Clearly, these criteria were not met by the behavior exhibited by Olu the street preacher and thus to arrest him on this particular charge was, by all accounts, fundamentally wrong.
Stay tuned for more updates on this troubling case.