On 20 November, a Christian preacher won permission to appeal a ruling which upheld his arrest outside Southwark Cathedral, London, after his displaying of placards which protested against Islam in the wake of terrorist attacks.
Following one complaint from a member of the public, Ian Sleeper, 57, was surrounded by four officers and arrested on 23 June 2017 for displaying placards which read “Love Muslims, Hate Islam, Jesus is love and hope.”
Another placard read: “Love Muslims, Ban Islam, the religion of terror.”
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.
He was held by the police for 13 hours in a cell, released on bail and then banned from entering the London Borough of Southwark for over six months. Charges against him were subsequently dropped.
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. Yet on 20 November 2023, Mr Sleeper was given permission to appeal this ruling by Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson.
His lawyer, Iain Daniels, had argued previously in court that: “The displaying of the placards was not and could never be threatening or abusive, nor was it likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress,” and that it was “apparent from the text of the placard that the Claimant was not motivated by a hostility to Muslims.”
The appeal comes after weeks 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.
Police body cam footage
On 23 June 2017, in police body cam footage, Mr Sleeper can be seen standing harmless, quiet and alone holding the sign. He is confronted by officers and he said: “I’m not attacking people; I’m attacking an idea.”
Officers, however, told him that they were going to “take this off you and I’m going to rip it up because you are not allowed to show this.”
An officer questioned him about the sign he is holding, and Mr Sleeper responded by saying:
“The message is ‘love Muslims’, recognising that Muslims are just a people. ‘Ban Islam’, the ideology that the Muslims are following. It’s not against Muslims the people, it’s against the ideology they are following. And we recognise it as a religion of terror.”
The police officer said: “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: “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.”
Mr Sleeper insisted that the Human Rights Act allowed him to be there.
The officer then aggressively said: “I am going to take this off you and I’m going to rip it up because you are not allowed to show this … it has the word hate on it as well.”
Mr Sleeper said that under Article 11 of European law, his right to assemble and display the sign was protected.
Mr Sleeper then rang his lawyer and the officer then rang his sergeant to clarify his position.
The Officer then read section four of the public order act and said that because one person had complained, Mr Sleeper had caused “harassment, alarm and distress.” He added that “you are allowed to write a sign, but you are not allowed to write what you have written on it.”
The officer said that on this occasion, Mr Sleeper would not be arrested for causing “religious and racial aggravation.”
Mr Sleeper said: “I’m not going to take your advice; I’m going to take my lawyer’s advice.”
“You are going to have to take that advice from the prison cell then. We will have no option but to take you into custody.”
While Mr Sleeper was on the phone to his lawyer, the officer said: “Is he aware that a member of the public has come up to us and therefore a crime has been committed?”
When Mr Sleeper had finished the phone call, the officer said: “We are going to take these signs off you and we are going to destroy them. And if you come back then we are going to arrest you.”
Mr Sleeper then picked up the sign, and showing it to the officer, said: “Is there anything you do like?”
“Love Muslims,” the officer replied, “Love Muslims, ban terrorists, that’s ok … but when you start saying ‘hate Islam’ that’s when the problems start you see.”
Another officer then said: “You said that people have gone to court and got off with it. Just because people have gone to court and got away with things, doesn’t mean that it is law … it doesn’t mean it isn’t an offence … someone could go to court after shop lifting and get way with it.”
Another officer then persuaded the lead officer that he needed to arrest Mr Sleeper. The officer again rang his sergeant to check his position and then said to Mr Sleeper: “I don’t have the power to take these [the signs] … but based on your belief on the law about them not being harmful … I can’t guarantee that you won’t show them anywhere else, so the only way we can deal with this is that we are going to have to arrest you … the necessity for the arrest is to stop you from re-offending.”
Mr Sleeper was then arrested and put inside a police van.
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 Islamic protestors to call for genocide without interference, and anyone who counter-protests and disagrees faces the full force of the law.”