Press Release

Police seek restriction on Christian preacher claiming he ‘puts lives at risk’

4 October 2020         Issued by: Christian Legal Centre

Avon and Somerset Police will argue at a High Court hearing on Monday 5 October that a Christian preacher could cause “significant risk or harm to others”.

The application for an injunction, made under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 accuses Mr Mike Overd of repeatedly ‘engaging in anti-social behaviour’ while preaching from the Bible in Taunton. If granted, an order would threaten Mr Overd with arrest, imprisonment, and contempt of court were he to disobey the six orders in the injunction.

The Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Overd, says the Act is being increasingly used by police to suppress legitimate freedom of speech.

Mr Overd said the injunction was “the latest in a long line of attempts to strip me of my freedom to preach from the Bible on the streets of Somerset.”

Act being misused by police

The injunction aims to prohibit Mr Overd from:

  • using an amplifier when preaching
  • using a soap box in order to preach from an elevated position
  • using visual aids and placards, such as signs which say ‘repent’, ‘abortion is murder’, or to show medically validated images of the reality of abortion
  • going within 80 yards of an abortion clinic in Taunton
  • preaching in a single town or parish for more than 20 minutes a day
  • ‘breaching the peace’ through any words or actions in a public space.

Bible preaching puts ‘lives at risk’

The order claims that Mr Overd “engages or threatens to engage” in anti-social behaviour and that his preaching “threatens violence” and could cause “significant risk or harm” to others.

At the County Court hearing, PC Charles Grear’s evidence even went as far as to conclude that: “if the injunction is not granted…this will empower Mr Overd to ‘put lives at risk.”

Mr Overd is known for his passionate Bible-based preaching on the issues of homosexuality, religion and abortion, and members of the public are sometimes offended by the reality of what the Bible says on these important social issues. Although there are some who disagree with his style of preaching, Mr Overd knows many people over the years who have benefited from his messages.

One complaint against Mr Overd was that he had held a sign which read ‘abortion is murder’ outside Millstream House Abortion Clinic in Taunton. An employee of the clinic, run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), claimed that he was harassing clients, which he emphatically denies.

After hearing a number of other tenuous witness statements from members of the public, HHJ Cotter QC ruled that the only restrictions that should be placed on Mr Overd should be a ban on him using an amplifier when preaching and that he could not call anyone a ‘murderer’ within 80 yards of Millstream House Abortion clinic. He is permitted to hold a sign saying ‘abortion is murder.’

Since 2011, Mr Overd has been prosecuted five times and arrested four times by Avon and Somerset police. Each time has walked away from court without a conviction.

He has also been interviewed on a voluntary basis, outside of arrest, on three separate occasions and has been issued with four Section 35 dispersal orders.

In response to the continued attempts to suppress his preaching, Mr Overd is set to bring a claim in December 2020 against the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police for harassment, false imprisonment, assault, malicious prosecution, and infringement of his rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.

‘Jesus preached about hell and sin’

Mike Overd commented: “I long to continue to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to the people that I love so dearly, in Avon and Somerset.

“I was once a drunkard, a fornicator and a violent man, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed me forever and I am compelled to go and tell others about Him. I accept that sometimes I have offended people when I preach, but this is primarily because the Gospel is offensive. I accept that I do preach about Hell and sin, because Jesus did the same. If there is no sin, there is no need for a Saviour!”

Freedom of Speech under attack

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “As Christians, we love and value the work that the police do in Avon and Somerset and around the country.

“However, the police have been given tremendous power that must be exercised responsibly and within the law.

“What we have found at the Christian Legal Centre is that police around the country often believe that if someone is offended by a message that they don’t agree with, a crime must have been committed.

“This simply is not the case and has led to many false arrests and prosecutions. It has to be accepted that Mike’s messages can be hard-hitting, but it is not the place of the state to police his message.

“Mike’s case shows that unless we stand up for the preachers, there is a real risk that eventually they will come for the ‘moderate’ Christians; the pastors who preach and the everyday Christians who talk to their friends about controversial subjects.”

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