After a two-year legal battle, a Crown Court Judge has vindicated a Christian volunteer worker who was arrested, detained in a police cell and issued with a Covid fine for preaching and supporting the homeless during lockdown.
On Easter Sunday 2020, Andrew Sathiyavan, 47, was confronted by London Metropolitan police officers on Sutton High Street, London, for allegedly breaching Covid regulations.
Video footage of the incident revealed Mr Sathiyavan being told by the police that preaching the gospel was ‘not allowed’ under the regulations and that his preaching was ‘non-essential’ and was ‘anti-social behaviour.’
Mr Sathiyavan disagreed, as he believed he was a religious key worker and therefore exempt from the restrictions.
His voluntary work involves providing material, emotional and spiritual support to the homeless and others who were suffering from drug and alcohol addictions.
However, the police ignored his pleas and instead handcuffed him and led him away to a riot van while ignoring the congregating Deliveroo riders.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, this week, Mr Sathiyavan had appealed a previous ruling from the Deputy District Judge, which had upheld the fine. She found that he should have done his street preaching and ministry online.
His lawyer, Michael Phillips, argued in court that the actions of the police were ‘disproportionate’ and the regulations, as interpreted by the police officer on the day, constituted an ‘unreasonable interference with the Mr Sathiyavan’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.’
Andrew serves with Gospel Light Ministries – find out more and support their work on Facebook.
Handing down judgment at Isleworth Crown Court, HHJ Simon Davis along with Michelle O’Keefe JP and Aun Qurashi JP overturned the previous judgment by ruling that Mr Sathiyavan had a reasonable excuse for leaving his house during the lockdown under the regulations and that he was providing “voluntary and charitable services.”
The judgment said that there were ‘no other alternatives’ for Mr Sathiyavan to carry out his ministry and that: “We accepted that, on that particular day [the most important in the Christian calendar] the focus of Mr Sathiyavan’s ministry was the homeless, the poor and drug addicts, many of whom will not have ready access to Facebook, the internet or other forms of social media.”
The ruling emphasised that Mr Sathiyavan’s “motives were genuine; that he believed he was carrying out a serious endeavour” and cited his upbringing in Sri Lanka serving the poor and Jesus’ commission to his disciples in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
Furthermore the ruling stated that: “We accepted that, on that particular Easter Day, the fact that there were few people on the High Street in Sutton was immaterial to Mr Sathiyavan for, as he told the Court, if ONE PERSON was “saved” that was sufficient as he would have done as Christ did, namely, to go in search of the one lost sheep.”
If the case had not been dropped against Mr Sathiyavan, he would have had a criminal record.
The ruling comes following the publication of Sue Gray’s investigation into parties in Downing Street during lockdown which led to the issuing of 126 fines for Covid breaches.
‘I was treated like a criminal’
Responding to the outcome, Mr Sathiyavan, who is a full-time voluntary worker for Gospel Light Ministries, said: “I am relieved that the case against me has finally been dropped. I was treated like a criminal for preaching about Jesus Christ.
“When the pandemic began, there was so much fear. I saw that due to the crisis that the vulnerable were experiencing even greater mental health issues. I knew I had to do something about it as nobody was caring for the homeless.
“I cannot do my ministry online. We reach out to people who are really weak and desperate, and we give them support materially, emotionally and spiritually. That can involve providing a hot meal, praying for them and telling them about the hope that can be found in Jesus.
“It does concern me that while I have been fighting this legal battle, members of the government, who shaped the regulations, were holding parties and breaking the rules.
“However, my story reflects a wider problem with how the police view, perceive, and handle Christian ministry and free speech on our streets.
“Police were given powers during lockdown to clamp down on Christian ministries which has set a dangerous precedent.
“I was and still am shocked at how I was treated and how long it has taken for this case to be dismissed. If the Judge had not made this ruling today, I would have had a criminal record.
“If as a country we ever face a similar crisis in future, Christian ministry, whether on the streets, at the homeless shelters or in the pulpit, must step up and reach the most vulnerable rather than closing its doors and going online. Reaching the most vulnerable at a time of crisis is what Christian ministries have always done and that is what Jesus would have done during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “We are relieved and pleased that the courts have seen sense and dropped this case against Andy.
“This story has highlighted how se Christian preachers were easy targets compared to many others sectors of society including members of the government!
“The previous ruling, which said that Andy should have taken his work preaching and supporting the homeless online, was simply wrong and failed to understand and engage with what Christian ministry is.
“What Andy was doing on Easter Sunday 2020 was what Christian witness should have looked like during the pandemic – ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs. Instead, we have saw Christian preachers and pastors, like Andy, who have a heart for reaching those in great need in their communities, fined, arrested, and prosecuted for doing so.
“Street preaching has always required physical presence on the street, and the importance of doing so during times of crisis heightened, not lessened. It cannot reasonably be conducted over the internet, as this would exclude the most vulnerable in society.”
Believing he was a key religious worker under the government’s Covid guidelines, on Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020, Mr Sathiyavan was preaching on Sutton High Street when he was approached by three police officers.
Video footage revealed an officer initially suggesting to Mr Sathiyavan that they had been called to the scene because the amplification he was using to preach was causing a disturbance – not for breaching Covid regulations.
Mr Sathiyavan asked an officer if he was ‘breaking the law by preaching the gospel, sir’? The officer responded: ‘We are not saying you are breaking the law, but it is causing anti-social behaviour.’
A third officer, PC Routledge, then told Mr Sathiyavan that he was ‘breaching covid laws because you are here without a purpose. You are not exercising, you are not going to work, so you can get a fine.
‘Under covid laws you are allowed to be outside if you are going to the shops, exercising or going to work. You are doing neither; you are preaching and that is unacceptable.”
Mr Sathiyavan responded: ‘So you are arresting me for preaching.’ The officer says: ‘No, no one is going to arrest you.’
Deliveroo service allowed
One officer then pointed to two people on the high street whom he said were allowed to be there because they worked for takeaway food service, Deliveroo. ‘They are delivering food and are providing a service’, he said.
As Mr Sathiyavan continued to ask questions, one officer took a step towards him, leant in and directed him to ‘Stop now. There is a viral pandemic which means you need to be at home, not on a high street preaching the Word of God.’
‘Does it [covid regs] say I am not allowed to preach the gospel’, Mr Sathiyavan asks, and in unison the officers all reply ‘yes.’
PC Routledge then lost his patience, and said ‘give me your name and number, you’re getting a fine, I’m fed up with this.’
PC Routledge confiscated Mr Sathiyavan’s wooden cross, read him the caution and handcuffed him.
Mr Sathiyavan said: “This is England. You get arrested for preaching the gospel. This is England.”
Mr Sathiyavan was then taken to custody and held for four hours and then released.
Find out more about Andrew Sathiyavan