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Jun 30

Bristol preachers acquitted on appeal

Preachers Michael Overd (l) and Michael Stockwell were acquitted at Bristol Crown Court

Preachers Michael Overd (l) and Michael Stockwell were acquitted at Bristol Crown Court

Two street preachers convicted by lay magistrates won their appeal in Bristol Crown Court yesterday.

Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell had fines and costs totalling over £2,000 each set aside.

Judge Martin Picton watched a video which Mr Overd took to safeguard himself from malicious prosecution.

Moreover, His Honour took that as the prosecution case and heard only one witness.

After the evidence of Mr Overd and Mr Stockwell, the trial concluded with brief legal arguments.  Barristers Paul Diamond and Michael Phillips set out the case law on behalf of the preachers.

Preachers convicted by Freemason magistrate

Magistrate Robert Stacey, a leading Freemason, convicted the preachers in February 2017

Magistrate Robert Stacey, a leading Freemason, convicted the preachers in February 2017

Despite the video, the Crown Prosecution Service brought charges last year against the two evangelists and two other preachers.  In February of this year, the CPS dropped all charges against Don Kahns, an American missionary.  The magistrates court decided the prosecution had made no case against another man, Adrian Clark.

But, as Christian Voice reported at the time, the bench found Messrs Overd and Stockwell guilty of disorderly conduct, religiously aggravated.  Afterwards, we discovered the chairman of the magistrates was a high-ranking Freemason.  We posted a further report into Freemasonry and its ‘secrets’.  In that report we named magistrate Robert Stacey as ‘Provincial Grand Scribe Ezra’ in the Royal Arch Provincial Grand Chapter of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

Christianity and the claims of Jesus Christ stand against all the occultism and secrecy of Freemasonry.

The retired laboratory manager and his colleagues, Mr Gerry McDermot and Mrs Josephine Ramsden, thought an offence was ‘religiously aggravated’ if defendants took exception to a religion, Islam in this case.  The law says the defendant must display hatred towards its adherents or suspected adherents.

Appeal allowed

Michael Phillips represented Michael Overd

Michael Phillips represented Michael Overd

Accordingly, Judge Picton dismissed the aggravated nature of the convictions early in the hearing.  Nor did His Honour have any problem with the preachers using the language of the King James Bible.

The court heard from barrister Paul Diamond, representing Michael Stockwell.  Mr Diamond said religions are competitive and the truth each claims to hold is incompatible to another.  Referring to a restless element in the crowd, he told the judge, ‘A lawful act cannot be made unlawful by the acts of third parties.’

Michael Phillips, representing Michael Overd, told the court the case was almost exactly the same as that of Alison Redmond-Bate.  She was convicted of obstructing a police officer when she refused to stop preaching in the face of a hostile crowd on the steps of Wakefield Cathedral in 1998.  In a famous judgment, Sir Stephen Sedley quashed her conviction.

Free speech includes the unwelcome

Paul Diamond (l) chats to this journalist after the case

Paul Diamond (l) chats to this journalist after the case

Freedom to speak the inoffensive, said Lord Justice Sedley, was not worth having.  Free speech encompassed ‘the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative,’ he said.  The only proviso on ‘provocative’ was: ‘provided it did not tend to provoke violence’.

is clear His Lordship meant the person speaking must not whip up his hearers to violence against third parties. Prosecutors will try to argue a preacher would be outside the law if a listener was moved to violence against him himself.  But as Mr Diamond said, hecklers cannot have a veto which is expressed through the threat of violence.  And Sir Stephen said: ‘A police officer has no right to call upon a citizen to desist from lawful conduct.’

Indeed, Judge Picton said the court, ‘Should not focus on reactions.  Some became aggravated, but we ask ourselves if the behaviour itself was disorderly.’

In the event, the court held it was not.  His Honour found for the preachers.  He allowed the appeal to the delight of around twenty supporters gathered in the public gallery.

Here is the report from the Bristol Post local newspaper.

Preach the Gospel to every creature

John Wesley's chapel in Bristol's Broadmead - that's the man of God on his horse.

John Wesley’s chapel in Bristol’s Broadmead – that’s the man of God on his horse.

Earlier, in his evidence, Michael Stockwell said, ‘Jesus commands me in Mark and Matthew to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature’.  He told the court there would often be people on the fringes listening, even if a trouble-maker had come to the front.  ‘Most of these people never go to church,’ he said, ‘They will hear the word but maybe later at home they will think and cry to God for mercy.’

After the verdict, a small group of us went back to the place in Broadmead where the alleged offences had occurred.  The site is right outside John Wesley’s chapel in Bristol.  An evangelist called Daniel climbed on a stump to preach while we stood and helped to gather a crowd.  Around fifty people were listening by the time Daniel came down and we all started to engage the crowd in twos and threes.

It was shocking how many younger people have bought into the homosexual narrative and are even supporting transsexualism.  Truth has fallen in the street.  But preachers do what they can.  Above all we had good conversations.  Who knows if he is planting a seed or merely turning over the ground for another to plant.

Scriptures:

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!

Matthew 13:3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Romans 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

2Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

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4 comments

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  1. Bob Hutton

    This is wonderful news indeed.

    I seem to recall that, when these 2 dear brothers were convicted in February, you stated that they would likely be cleared on appeal and, certainly, we have a lot to be thankful for in that we have an independent court service that upholds the most fundamental of all rights – that of free speech.

    In my own street evangelism I tend to simply give out tracts rather than preach but, even then, I have been called all manner of names simply for stating, in private conversation, the truths of John 14 v 6 (I’ve even been called “racist”).

    If my detractors were to go to the coppers and accuse me of “racism” or “Islamophobia” I could get nicked. BUT, the truth must be told – there is only one way to be saved, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

    May the Lord use this news report to kindle an interest in His word, and stir up the Christians to go out into the world and “preach the Gospel”.

    1. Mark Jones

      God bless you & yours, and your work for the Lord, Bob xx

  2. Rox

    Nobody likes being told that they will go to hell if they disagree with you.

    Least of all do people like being told this in a city bristling with mediæval Christian churches by “missionaries” from America using powerful loudspeakers. I think this is understandable .

    1. Stephen

      They may not like it, but the question before the court was ‘Were the preachers acting against the law’? And they weren’t.

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