Picture credit: Christian Concern
Artillery Row

Against Britain’s two-tier policing

Street preachers should not be arrested for offending people

I was once told by a former police officer that when he was an officer, he was always the bad guy. People he arrested thought that he was the bad guy, the victims of crime that he was not able to help thought that he was the bad guy, and the defence lawyers that gave him a hard time in court and accused him of corruption thought he was the bad guy. 

Understandably he quit, because it’s not an easy job. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that while policing is not easy, it would be quite wrong to change policing to ensure an easier life. 

Every police officer takes an oath at the start of their career: 

I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. 

So, it follows that there must be no two tier policing. There should be no group that has preferential treatment by the police such that it would be a violation of the oath. 

However, this was not John Dunn and Shaun O’Sullivan’s experience.  

On 8 June 2023, in the town of Glastonbury, they asked the officers of Avon and Somerset police to follow their oath. They didn’t. Those in town labelled them as Christian Crazies, going about like John the Baptist preaching a message of fire and brimstone on their sleepy town. They say they were bringing a message of hope and love as both of their lives have been radically changed by the message of Jesus Christ. 

Shaun was a class A drug user and dealer, a thief, an armed robber, and ran prostitute rings. He previously hated his now friend John Dunn with a vengeance. John was a former special forces operative who loved to kill. He was radically converted and became a street preacher. On the streets of Swindon, a number of years ago, both met. John’s preaching would regularly wake Shaun up as it travelled into the car park where Shaun slept. Enraged, Shaun would run down, rip up John’s bible and hurl abuse at him. Not anymore. They are now a travelling duo; going up and down the country telling their story.  Shaun now does most of the preaching because John has lost his voice through throat cancer. 

On 8 June 2023, they preached their usual message in the streets of Glastonbury. It was the same message that they bring to every town in the land — one that has been preached throughout this land for 2000 years. The problem is, they preached from 1 Corinthians 6 v 9 NKJV: 9:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

Most will not be bothered by the suggestion that they are covetous or drink too much — however those in same sex relationships will clearly be offended by the suggestion that they are not going to go to heaven because of their sexual relationship. Understandably so. 

But so what? That is the price of democracy. Personally, when I walk through my local centre I am offended by the beggar that suggests that I am heartless for not wishing to fund his addiction. I am offended by the noisy cacophony from the hare krishna. But I move on and ignore them and know that they will probably not be there when I walk past again. 

However, on 8 June, the police had a better way to deal with the matter. As people were offended, they decided something must be done. A dispersal order was the order of the day. This gives the police the power to force people to leave an area for 24 hours because of the risk of “anti-social behaviour”. Failing to disperse is a crime and can result in imprisonment. 

The law specifically requires the police to pay careful attention to people’s free speech rights — which the police said that they did, of course. So, the police issued the dispersal order. However, the preachers did not leave, because as far as they were concerned they hadn’t done anything wrong. 

They were duly charged and sent to Taunton Magistrates Court for trial, which took place last Tuesday. The preachers asked the relevant police officer to give evidence before court to explain why he had made the said decision. Unfortunately, he had lost the bit of paper justifying it. He then decided to not turn up to trial as apparently he was taking his child to an interview. 

The CPS applied to adjourn the trial. The case collapsed. The preachers were found not guilty. 

The police’s approach in Glastonbury was in marked contrast to that which we have seen up and down our streets since 7 October 2023. Protestors have been chanting, “From the rivers to the sea, Palestine will be free.” There have been many reports of many members of the British public being offended. But nothing has happened to these protestors — arguably rightly so if they have not broken any laws, but simply caused offence. 

Why is this two-tier policing allowed to exist? Why is it that not a week passes without a call from the police to say they have arrested yet another preacher because he has been offending people? This most recently included an occasion in London where the police wanted to interview a preacher for saying that he believed that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. 

As a nation, we are more sensitive than we have ever been. People have dropped the Christian faith, and therefore have adopted a new faith — the belief that you should be able to believe whatever you like and escape criticism. That’s fine, but police officers need to realise that to offend is not an offence — and their inability to apply the law without fear or favour is not doing the Christian preachers, the people who are offended nor themselves any favours. They have created a two-tier system. One of the questions I would have asked the inspector if he had turned up was what he would have done if this had been a pro-Palestine protest — would he have (a) given the protestors an order to disperse or (b) told the locals the protestors were exercising their free speech?

What the police need to accept is that if you have taken the Police Officer’s Oath, sometimes you have to be willing to be seen to be the bad guy, even when you aren’t, because it’s called doing your duty and doing your job.

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