British street preacher awarded $4.5K over wrongful arrest

Street preacher David McConnell
Street preacher David McConnell | The Christian Institute

A Christian street preacher arrested while preaching the Gospel has won his case against a police department that admitted liability in a lawsuit, agreeing to pay $4,500 (£3,250) in damages in addition to his legal costs for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and violating his human rights.

A Liverpool County Court has awarded $4,500 plus legal costs to David McConnell, who was arrested by West Yorkshire Police in December 2019 for “a hate-related public order offense” and “for preaching on gay rights and abortion,” The Christian Institute, which supported his case, said in a statement.

McConnell was preaching the Gospel when some passersby began to heckle him, asking him questions about sexuality and abortion while he had not mentioned either subject. He was then arrested and taken to Huddersfield police station.

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McConnell was held for around six hours before being released without charge after a police sergeant listened to the recording of his preaching and found nothing wrong in it.

“This was a clear breach of Mr. McConnell’s human rights and a failure to follow the laws governing arrest and detention,” The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert said. “West Yorkshire did the right thing by admitting liability and the court has issued [a] judgment in favor of Mr. McConnell.”

The case has “reaffirmed the value and importance of free speech,” Calvert added. “Christian street preachers have got as much legal right to speak in public as anyone else.”

The judge agreed: “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

McConnell said he doesn’t blame the police for responding to the call, “but they should have asked me for my side of the story instead of just arresting me.”

The preacher said the police did not tell him what they were arresting him for. “Anyone who has ever watched TV knows the police have to tell you what law you’re supposed to have broken, but these officers never did. They just said, ‘when you get to custody we’ll explain why you are arrested.’”

McConnell said it was a “very distressing experience” for him, but he can now “put it behind me.”

He added, “I have to say that, when I am preaching now, the police in Huddersfield are very good with me. I’m glad I’m able to continue to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

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