A Christian street preacher has been offered £2,500 in exemplary damages by the Metropolitan Police in relation to his false arrest, imprisonment and unlawful detention.
In February, a video showing the aggressive arrest of Pastor Oluwole Ilesanmi (64) was watched by millions around the world, prompting outrage. Officers were shown forcibly handcuffing the preacher, claiming that he was breaching the peace and had made “Islamophobic comments”.
A petition was quickly launched calling on the Home Secretary to investigate the guidance and training given to police officers nationwide on the freedom to preach in public.
‘Exceptional humiliation and degradation’
On 23 February 2019, Pastor Oluwole was preaching outside Southgate Underground station. A member of the public, Mrs Ambrosine Shitrit, saw a tall hooded man squaring up to a street preacher. Thinking that the preacher was about to be assaulted, she pulled over and started filming with her phone.
Two police officers shortly arrived in response to a 999 call claiming that the preacher had been “Islamophobic”. The hooded man, who had identified himself as a Muslim, left the immediate vicinity and the police began asking the preacher to leave the area for supposedly “breaching the peace.”
The video, which shortly afterwards went viral online, shows Pastor Oluwole explaining his freedom to continue preaching to the officers, who arrest him, forcibly handcuffing him and snatching his Bible.
Pastor Oluwole was then driven five miles away from the scene, beyond the area he could use his Oyster card, and left with no means to pay for his ticket home. Police initially denied that this had happened, later changing their story after evidence backed the pastor’s claim.
Motivated by the desire not to see other street preachers treated the way he was, Pastor Oluwole authorised the Christian Legal Centre to write a pre-action letter to the Metropolitan Police. In response, the police force has agreed the sum of £2,500 in damages, including general damages for false imprisonment in the sum of £500, plus £1,000 for the exceptional humiliation and degradation and £1,000 for the mental trauma caused to Pastor Oluwole.
Supported by Christian Concern, Pastor Oluwole made the resolution of his case on 30 July, along with a group of street preachers they delivered a petition to the Home Office, New Scotland Yard and London City Hall, calling for greater protection for Christian street preachers and for new police guidelines on how to deal with the gospel being preached on the streets of the UK.
The petition, with 45,000 signatures was delivered at the Home Office to the new Home Secretary Priti Patel, as well as to London City Hall. The Christian Legal Centre, which has assisted Pastor Oluwole throughout the case, has written to chief constables across the country, asking them to uphold the freedom of street preachers to speak freely about Jesus Christ in public. This letter will be delivered on Tuesday to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick.
The letter explains:
“Many street preachers have found themselves in trouble. This has included being arrested, and prosecuted, despite the law recognising their rights to both manifest and express their religious beliefs. None of the clients we have assisted has been convicted; accordingly, that might suggest the criminal justice system is working appropriately; however, the problem is that many officers simply do not understand the interplay between the public order legislation and the right to freedom of speech.”
‘Christians and freedom of speech must be protected’
Pastor Oluwole said: “I am glad that the police have recognised that it was not right to arrest me for preaching from the Bible. It was traumatic being arrested and left many miles from my home. But God was always with me and even though I was left in a place I did not know, I was determined to get back to Southgate and start preaching the gospel again.
“When I came to the UK it was a free Christian country, but now preachers like me are being arrested for speaking the truth. Christians and freedom of speech must be protected, especially by the government and police. I hope this recognition of fault can lead to more Christians being protected and the police gaining greater insight into what it means to lawfully proclaim the Word of God on our streets.
“I am amazed and so grateful for the support I have received from people across the world and the Christian Legal Centre.”
‘Critiquing ideas is often motivated by love and not hate’
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Street preaching has a long and honoured history in the UK. In many ways it is symbolic of the kind of freedoms we have treasured in this nation.
“However despite laws that theoretically support the freedom to preach in public, in practice, police officers are quick to silence preachers at the first suggestion that a member of the public is offended. Freedom of speech means that each one of us needs to be able to critique all religions and ideas without immediately being labelled and silenced as offensive. Critiquing ideas is often motivated by love for others and not hate. The result of this also chills free speech through self-censorship.
“While the extent of the public outrage at Pastor Oluwole’s arrest was unique, what he faced from the police and members of the public was not. We are constantly supporting street preachers who are being silenced and penalised on our streets by the police, and their poor treatment and the injustice they face is too quickly forgotten.
“So whilst we are pleased that the police have agreed to pay compensation for what has happened to Pastor Oluwole, we now need to see tangible action from the government, the police and the Mayor of London, offering assurances that Christian street preachers are free to preach the gospel within the law without fear of prosecution.”