A Market Street Christian preacher has reached an out-of-court settlement with police after he was denied food and medicine for 15 hours.
The incident came after John Craven, 57, was arrested after a row with two gay teenagers in Manchester – in which he was taunted with sexually suggestive acts – three years ago.
Mr Craven was awarded £13,000 in compensation in an out-of-court settlement following a three-year battle which will cost the taxpayer over £50,000 in legal costs.
The settlement was agreed a few days before the civil case was due in court.
Mr Craven had been saying: “Whilst God hates sin, he loves the sinner” from his soapbox in the street when the boys asked for his views on being gay – only to start sharing a kiss in front of him.
But he faced an unholy row when he began quoting Revelations Chapter 21, verse 8 which reads: “But for the cowardly, unbelieving, sinners, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
The youngsters approached a nearby mounted policeman patrolling Manchester city centre and claimed Mr Craven’s comments which also included him reciting the verse John 3:16 were ‘insulting’ and caused them ‘harassment and distress.’
The constable dismounted from his horse and was said to have ‘grabbed’ Mr Craven ‘roughly by the arm’ before detaining him on suspicion of public order offences.
The catering boss later claimed he was denied food, water and access to medication for his rheumatoid arthritis for almost 15 hours whilst kept in the cells at Pendleton police station at Salford.
He was fingerprinted and had to give a sample of his DNA before being bailed.
Two days after the incident, he was told no action would be taken against him after police sought advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Greater Manchester Police later claimed the detention was ‘necessary for a prompt and effective investigation.’
But Mr Craven later sued the force for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of his human rights.
Police had arrested him under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which criminalises the use of insulting words with the intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress. If he had been convicted, he could have faced up to six months in jail.
Mr Craven said: “I never intended to cause anyone harassment, alarm or distress – in fact, quite the opposite. I preach the gospel which means good news and the love of God for all.
“At the end of the day, God loves everybody but homosexuality is a sin and I am not going to contradict the word of God.
”People cannot change the word of God to suit their lifestyle and I was standing up for the word of God. The actions of the police have left me feeling nervous and anxious. I found the whole episode extremely distressing.
“It appears that the actions of the police were calculated to give me and other street preachers the impression that we could not preach the gospel in public without breaking the law and if we did we would be arrested.
“This case wasn’t about the money but showing that you have to stand up for yourself.”
The incident occurred on September 17 2011 whilst Mr Craven, who has been street preaching for 14 years, was at his regular twice-weekly pitch in Market Street.
He was preaching on salvation through Christ and quoting one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16 which states: ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Trouble began at 7pm after the unnamed teenagers approached him and asked Mr Craven what he thought of gays. He put down his microphone and told them that what he thought didn’t matter but what mattered was what God thought.
He then quoted the Bible’s stance on homosexuality but added that everyone has sinned and that ‘whilst God hates sin He loves the sinner’. But he claimed the teenagers then began kissing in front of him and taunting him with crude and suggestive sexual acts.
Mr Craven was then arrested by PC Alistair McKittrick for a public order offence after the two teenagers told the officer that they felt insulted by Mr Craven’s comments.
Mr Craven, who is married with no children, added: “I was doing my street evangelism on a Friday night at around 6pm when two young lads approached me. They asked me what God thinks of homosexuals.
“I told them that according to the word of God homosexuality is an abomination. That is not my opinion it is the word of God. I quoted them Revelation chapter 21 verse 8.
“This made them very upset and they started to do obscene gestures to me. They were deliberately trying to provoke me.
“I have to be very careful in these sorts of situations so I did not give my own opinion, I just gave God’s word. But they said that I had taunted them and assaulted them verbally and before I knew it the police arrived. I couldn’t believe it.
“I have had confrontations with people before when I have been speaking but never anything like this. I remained calm and co-operative even though I was being handled very roughly by the police officer.”
Mr Craven later told the custody officer that he had rheumatoid arthritis for which he takes medicine and asked if his medicine could be brought to him – a request which he says was ignored.
From the time of his arrest at 7.15pm until midnight he was not given anything to eat or drink. At 9.30am the following morning after almost 15 hours, he was finally given a bowl of cereal and a microwave meal following a complaint to the police from his friend criticising the outrageous treatment.
He said: “The police pushed me into a corner and took my phone when they arrested me. I was in a cell on my own. I was fingerprinted, swabbed and had my photo taken. They took my shoelaces from me.
“They said that I would not be interviewed until the next day and then they left me. I was shocked because I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Mr Craven was released without charge and given police bail to report to the police station at a later date. He subsequently received a letter confirming that there were no grounds for bringing a case against him.
Today, a freedom of expression row broke out after the settlement.
Mr Craven won his damages under the Human Rights Act quoting his entitlement to enjoy the freedom to manifest his religion (Article 9) and freedom of expression, including the freedom to impart information and ideas without interference by a public authority (Article 10).
Mr Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute which funded Mr Craven’s case said: “Nobody should face 19 hours in custody for simply answering a question about their beliefs.
“The disgraceful way in which Mr Craven was treated fell well below what the public deserve. In terms of the infringement of religious liberty, it was one of the worst cases we have ever dealt with.
“Freedom of expression is a very basic human right. The very foundations of our liberty depend upon it. I hope that Greater Manchester Police learn lessons for the future from this case and make every effort to ensure that it never happens again.
“I am delighted for Mr Craven that a settlement has been reached.”
Greater Manchester Police confirmed the settlement but declined to comment further.
Images courtesy of Dale McAlpine via Youtube, with thanks