A Christian voluntary worker, fined by police for supporting the homeless and preaching during lockdown, has had a case against him dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) because “it is not in the public interest.”
Jan Niedojadlo, 56, from Taunton, who has been supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was fined £60 by Avon and Somerset Police in early April 2020 for telling homeless people about where they could get food during lockdown and for preaching from the Bible.
The case comes following a group of MPs on the Joint Committee on Human Rights calling for all 85,000 covid fines issued during the pandemic to be reviewed.
Mr Niedojadlo has volunteered for many years for Christian outreach projects in the region. One project, The Lord’s Soup Kitchen, was supplying hot meals for the homeless every Sunday afternoon in Taunton from January – April 2020.
Government Covid regulations have stated clearly that voluntary workers, like Mr Niedojadlo, can leave their homes to perform voluntary work.
A list of critical workers published by the government includes: “charities and workers delivering key frontline services.”
Figures from housing charity, Shelter, have also revealed the urgent needs of the homeless during the current crisis. 6,000 people were made homeless in the first three months of the pandemic last year, and the number living in temporary accommodation also increased by 83% during this period.
No valid reason
On Saturday 4 April 2020, believing under Covid regulations he was permitted to perform his voluntary duties on the streets, Mr Niedojadlo went to Taunton town centre to raise awareness among the homeless about where they could receive support.
Combing the streets, Mr Niedojadlo encountered one homeless woman who was distressed and in need. He prayed for her and told her where she could find help on Sunday afternoon.
He also began to preach from the Bible seeking to provide a message of hope.
There has been lots of positive coverage during lockdown of church leaders providing church services on the streets without being troubled by the authorities.
Mr Niedojadlo, however, while preaching, was approached by a community support officer who asked why he was out during lockdown. He told the officer that he was volunteering for a Christian organisation and was therefore exempt from the regulations.
The community officer said if he did not leave, she would have to call the police to “give you a ticket.”
Shortly afterwards two police officers arrived asking for evidence that Mr Niedojadlo was exempt. Despite providing proof, the officer was still unconvinced, lost patience and issued him with a fixed penalty notice.
Police stated that he was charged with being away from home without a valid reason under Covid regulations.
Providing an expert witness report for the case, Dr Martin Parsons concluded that the case represented a potentially “significant conflict between this aspect of freedom of religion both in terms of how it has been developed in British constitutional history and the interpretation of current Coronavirus regulations by Avon and Somerset Police.”
The CPS dropped the case concluding, “the decision to discontinue these charges has been taken because only one option should be chosen from 1 – 3a prosecution is not needed in the public interest.”
‘I was trying to save lives’
Responding to the court’s decision, Mr Niedojadlo said: “I am relieved that the court has seen sense, but the case should never have got this far.
“In April 2020 when the whole country was being told to ‘stay at home to save lives’, the lives of the homeless were especially in danger and were forgotten. There are significant issues with homelessness in the Taunton area and the support I and we were providing was a lifeline at an extremely difficult time.
“The whole purpose of me being out on the streets was to bring hope to the homeless.
“The attitude of the community support officer and the police towards me was unbelievably hostile and dismissive. I was treated like a nuisance. There was a lack of respect, humanity and understanding of what Christian outreach and preaching is and why it is important.
“I hope my case will serve to help others, who may have been treated similarly, to contest any fines they have received and not to be intimidated into silence and inaction.”
‘Role of Christians being forgotten’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Christian preaching and outreach to the most vulnerable on our streets has a long and revered history in this country. For centuries it has played a vital role in meeting communities’ material, emotional and spiritual needs, especially for the homeless.
“This pandemic, and cases such as Jan’s, has exposed how as a society we are forgetting how important the role of the church and Christian outreach is in our communities.
“All Jan was doing was making the homeless aware of where they could get a warm meal and of the love that Jesus has for them at an especially vulnerable time.
“We are pleased that the courts have seen sense in this case, and hope that fines against other preachers and voluntary workers will also be thrown out.”