Protection of Freedoms Bill

Memorandum submitted by Dale Mcalpine (PF 12)

To the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee on

the need to amend section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act

1. I am a committed Christian and have for the past five years delivered open air sermons and handed out Christian literature in various towns and cities including in my home town of Workington in Cumbria.

2. On Tuesday 20th April I went with two friends into Workington Town Centre where we set up to preach in Campbell Savours Way.

3. While one of the other men was preaching I saw two Police Community Support Officers walk up and stop outside a nearby shop. They were discussing what my friend was saying. A town centre official joined their discussion.

4. I then had a discussion with the town centre official who told me that our preaching was wrong and tried to convince me that the Bible was not clear and had more grey areas than what I was presenting. We had a short discussion where I explained to her that Jesus said unless we forsake our sins we will perish, she said I was talking "nonsense" and called me arrogant, she had to leave but said she would return and looked forward to continuing our conversation.

5. One of the PCSOs went up to talk to her. He seemed to want to ask her about our conversation. He then came up to me had said "We have had a complaint. If you make any racist or homophobic comments then I will have you arrested." I said I was not racist or homophobic. It was quite intimidating to be accused of that by a man in a uniform and threatened with arrest. I explained that I preach what the bible teaches about sin. The bible says we are all sinners and describes many different sins. Homosexual activity is just one of them. The gospel is about how we can be forgiven by God and that is only through Jesus Christ. It is impossible to talk about forgiveness without talking about sin. It would be like trying to talk about medicine without talking about what symptoms the medicine cures.

6. The PCSO said "I am offended. I am a homosexual." He told me he was the LGBT liaison officer. I replied that homosexuality was still a sin. He left.

7. I discussed what had happened with my colleague and we agreed that we would not mention homosexuality in our preaching. (We had not planned to anyway.) I got up on to my little step-ladder and preached about evolution and that God is our creator also about the need to repent of sin and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, I mentioned sins like adultery, blasphemy and drunkenness, I did not mention homosexuality.

8. A different town centre official turned up and tried to tell me I was on private property, which I was not. It was clear that they were trying to find a way of getting us to go away. We had only been there 40 minutes. As soon as the official left, the PCSO came back and asked for my name and address. He then used his radio. I had a pocket video camera and I pressed the record button at this point. The video is available on You Tube for anyone to watch to see what happened next.

9. Within a short time three police officers arrived and joined the two PCSOs who were already there. I was now surrounded by five men in uniforms. The opening question from one officer was "What have you been saying homophobic-wise?"

10. I said homophobia was hatred of homosexuals and I do not hate homosexuals. I said the only time I had said anything about homosexuality was to the PCSO and only then after he had raised the subject with me. I said anyway it was not against the law to say that homosexuality is a sin and referred to the recent vote in Parliament to include a free speech clause in a new homophobic incitement offence.

11. The officer replied, "It is against the law. Listen mate, we’re pretty sure. You’re under arrest for a racially aggravated section 5 offence." Not only was I shocked beyond belief at being arrested (I have never been arrested in my life) but I was bewildered that he was taking about racial aggravation. I hadn’t said a word about race.

12. He read me my rights and I was led away by the arm to a police van. I was taken to the police station and held in a cell to wait to be interviewed. I had my finger prints and DNA taken and they checked on me every hour. From my arrest to my release I was detained for 7 hours and 46 minutes.

13. I was brought in front of a very abrupt desk sergeant. I was charged with using "threatening, abusive or insulting" words "to cause harassment, alarm or distress" contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

14. I was released on bail on the condition that I must not preach in public until after my trial. I had been due to preach in my home church the following Sunday but I had to cancel that because of that bail condition. It was a serious infringement of both my freedom of speech and my freedom of religion for the state to stop me from preaching in my own church.

15. I was supported with my legal defence by a Christian charity. I am not quite sure what I would have done if I hadn’t had their help. It would have been terrible to be in that situation on my own.

16. I appeared at Workington Magistrates Court on 23 April, 2010 and pleaded ‘not guilty’. I was released on bail awaiting trial.

17. There was lots of press coverage of my arrest. On 3 May press reports quoted the homosexual activist Peter Tatchell as saying the arrest was heavy-handed and an attack on free speech. He said, "If offending others is accepted as a basis for prosecution, most of the population of the UK would end up in court." He generously offered to appear as a defence witness.

18. My lawyers wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service and called for the proceedings to be dropped. On 7 May the CPS said they were discontinuing the case due to lack of evidence.

19. On 25 May my lawyers wrote to Cumbria Police giving notice of a civil claim for wrongful arrest, unlawful imprisonment and breach of my human rights to free speech and religious liberty.

20. On 27 May Keith Porteous Wood, a homosexual and Executive Director of the National Secular Society, offered to appear as a witness in support of my civil action.

21. On 23 August lawyers for Cumbria Police admitted liability and began negotiations for an out-of-court settlement. On 16 December I accepted a police offer of £7,000 plus costs and a personal apology to settle my claim.

22. Needless to say, I was not concerned about compensation but about freedom of speech. I hope I practice what I preach when I talk about forgiveness. I forgive the officers who arrested me. But if no-one stands up when the police start arresting people for no good reason, we are all in trouble.

23. The fact that the police admitted liability proves that the way they used section 5 to arrest and charge me was wrong. But I still think the law should be changed to stop the same thing happening again. It is too easy for someone to claim to be offended and summon the police to arrest the person who offended them under section 5. In my case, their own LGBT liaison officer appears to have called them in to arrest me. Perhaps they felt they could not say no.

24. People might not agree with my views about sin and forgiveness. But everyone has views that are offensive to someone. Section 5 seems to be so all-encompassing that it can be used to arrest people just for expressing controversial opinions. Today it is views about morals. Tomorrow it could be views about foreign policy or climate-change or budget-cuts. Section 5 needs to be changed.

March 2011