Press Release

High Court to hear appeal of Christian preacher arrested for protesting Islam outside London cathedral

7 May 2024         Issued by: Christian Concern

Tomorrow at the High Court, a Christian preacher will appeal a ruling which upheld his arrest outside Southwark Cathedral for displaying placards which protested against Islam in the wake of terrorist attacks.

Following one complaint from a member of the public, Ian Sleeper, 57, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was surrounded by four officers and arrested on 23 June 2017 for displaying signs which read: “Love Muslims, Hate Islam, Jesus is love and hope.

Mr Sleeper maintains, and explained clearly to officers at the time, that he was “not attacking people; I’m attacking an idea.

Weeks earlier, on 3 June 2017, on London Bridge and at Borough Market, which is adjacent to where Mr Sleeper was protesting, Islamic terrorist attacks had taken place, killing eight people and injuring 48.

For holding the signs, Mr Sleeper was arrested under Section five of the Public Order Act for causing harassment, alarm and distress; and allegedly causing “religious and racial aggravation.

The arrest was captured on police body cam footage.

The footage reveals officers saying: “The issue we have got with this is that Islam is not a religion of terror, the terrorists make it a religion of terror … you can’t display this … it’s committing an offence … under a criminal law, you cannot display this.

Mr Sleeper, who was calm and polite throughout the exchange, disagreed with the officer and said that under human rights law he could display the sign.

The officer continued, however: “I’ll tell you the reason why we are here. Someone has come to us and they have complained. And when that happens it becomes a police criminal matter. Because what they have said you have put on [the sign] is not right … it breaks the law.

The officers said they were going to: “take [the placards] off you and I’m going to rip it up because you are not allowed to show this.

Mr Sleeper was arrested and held by the police for 13 hours in a cell. He was then released on bail and then banned from entering the London Borough of Southwark for over six months. Charges against him were subsequently dropped.

Grounds of appeal

Launching legal action against the police, Mr Sleeper claimed for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and that his rights were infringed under articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

However, at a court hearing in February, a judge upheld the actions of the police.

Granted permission to appeal, Mr Sleeper’s lawyers will now challenge findings in the previous ruling on three grounds.

Firstly, they will argue that the previous ruling was misdirected as to the police’s and court’s obligations under s. 6 Human Rights Act 1998.

Secondly, they will challenge a previous conclusion that Mr Sleeper’s arrest and detention were proportionate. They will say that the decision to arrest Mr Sleeper placed too much weight on the aim of preventing ‘alarm and distress’ while not giving any recognition to Mr Sleeper’s rights to preach and protest.

Lawyers will also challenge a conclusion in the previous ruling that Mr Sleeper’s rights to freedom of thought, belief and religion was not interfered with because he could have expressed his opinions in an alternative form.

The appeal comes after months of antisemitic and pro-Hamas protests in London, where monuments have been desecrated, people wearing poppies have been intimidated, and multiple calls for Jihad and violence have been made, without interference from the police.

Protestors have held signs calling for the genocide of Jews in Israel, but the police have repeatedly taken no action.

On Remembrance Day, 11 November 2023, there were reportedly 300,000 protestors marching against Israel and in support of Hamas on the streets of London.

Mr Sleeper’s case brings into question whether some religions and philosophical beliefs are more equal than others in the eyes of the Metropolitan police.

Inconsistent policing

Mr Sleeper said: In light of recent events in London, what happened to me following the terrorist attacks in 2017 is still hugely relevant and was a clear indication of what was to come.

When I went to Southwark, I was appalled by the violence that had been seen on London’s streets weeks earlier and it was clear that Islamic ideology motivated the violence. I was peacefully and calmly protesting the ideas behind the attacks and pointing to Jesus as the only hope in the middle of the tragedy and fear.

How I was treated was completely wrong. The police have never apologised and continue to believe that what they did was right. Recent events in London following the conflict in the Middle East has exposed that anyone protesting Israel and calling for violence would not be treated as I was by the police.

There is no consistency in policing over these matters and what has happened to me and on our streets in the past month should be of grave concern to many.

I will continue to pursue justice on this matter for as long as it takes and am pleased to have the opportunity to appeal the previous ruling.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

The police body cam footage reveals the clear inconsistency of how Islam and other beliefs are policed in London and throughout the UK.

What happened to Mr Sleeper in 2017 has been prophetic for what we now see on London’s streets during pro-Hamas protests. The police are upholding the right for pro Hamas protestors calling for genocide without interference, whereas anyone who counter-protests and disagrees, faces the full force of the law.

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