On 6 July 2016, we received a number of reports four street preachers were making Islamaphobic and homophobic comments in Bristol city centre.
When officers attended they found a large crowd had gathered around the preachers.
The four men were subsequently arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences and then charged by the Crown Prosecution Service. Two were convicted by magistrates but the verdict was later overturned at Bristol Crown Court.
In December last year the preachers took civil action against the force claiming wrongful arrest; assault/trespass to the person/battery; false imprisonment; malicious prosecution; misfeasance in public office and infringement of human rights. One also claimed he was continually being harassed by officers.
Last week, following a two week hearing at Bristol County Court, HHJ Ralton dismissed the claims in full ruling the actions taken by officers were lawful.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “We have an aspiration to be the most inclusive police force in England and Wales and always respect an individual’s rights to freedom of speech, expression, thought, belief and religion.
“However, these must be balanced with the general public being able to go about their lawful daily business without feeling alarmed or distressed.
“Officers responding to reports of a hostile crowd in Bristol on 6 July 2016 had to make difficult decisions quickly otherwise things could well have turned violent.
“The judge appreciated the dynamics of the situation and found the officers acted lawfully and had reasonable grounds to arrest.”
In a further hearing at Bristol County Court on Friday 5 February the claimants’ application for leave to appeal the ruling was refused and HHJ Ralton ordered the claimants to pay costs to Avon and Somerset Constabulary.