A Christian street preacher was held in a police cell for 11 hours after a lesbian falsely accused him of homophobia.
Rob Hughes had been speaking in Basildon, Essex when a woman who said she was “gay and proud” shouted: “Get down off your pedestal, you judgmental ***. Homophobia is not in this town” – despite the fact Mr Hughes had not even mentioned homosexuality.
Mr Hughes was later arrested after police said they had received a complaint that he had been using homophobic language.
He told the Daily Mail: “I was taken to the police station, processed, mugshot, fingerprints, DNA, the whole works. I was in a cell for about 11 hours, and then my solicitor finally arrived.
“I was interviewed by the police, they asked me a number of questions – “why were you out”, “what were you saying”, “did you say what the people said” – I said “no”, of course. I was polite and courteous.
“I did say that “you have my dictaphone in your possession, you can listen to the recording, the audio, if you like”. They dismissed that. Not sure why, but I just continued with the interview, finished the questions.”
After the interview, he was told that there was insufficient evidence against him and that he would be released.
His representatives say he has now reached an out-of-court settlement with the police, receiving £2,500 and a contribution towards his legal fees for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of human rights.
Mr Hughes said the incident left him feeling that street preachers were treated as “guilty until found innocent” by the police.
“Christians should be gracious in the midst of persecution, but at the same time we have a right to submit a legal defence,” he added.
Andrea Minichello of the Christian Legal Centre, who supported Mr Hughes’ case, said: “These cases are further examples of situations where the freedom of Christian preachers is restricted, when what they are saying is entirely lawful.
“In Mr Hughes’s case, he was not even talking about sexuality and yet was targeted by a member of the public who tried to shut him down.
“The police officer involved with Mr Geuter’s case wanted him not to preach the words of Jesus after one complaint was made about him expressing his opinion about the destruction of marriage by the government.”
In an almost identical case last month, another street preacher, Andrew Geuter, was detained for five hours after being falsely accused of making a homophobic comment. He was released on bail but later told there would be no further action against him due to insufficient evidence.
He told Christian Concern that for a man who has never even received a parking ticket it was “disturbing” to think he could have a criminal record just for preaching.