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Victory for Christian street preacher who was fined and prosecuted for evangelising in London

by Chantalle Edmunds
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Joshua Sutcliffe/Christian Concern

Magistrates in London have ruled a Christian street preacher, who was fined and prosecuted, was entitled to evangelise and gather during lockdown.

Joshua Sutcliffe, 31, along with one socially distanced friend, was preaching and handing out leaflets in Camden, North London, on Good Friday in April last year, when they were stopped by police.

Sutcliffe was told by four police officers that he was outdoors without a reasonable excuse and was in breach of government lockdown Covid regulations.

He explained to the officers that he was a pastor and worship leader and was therefore allowed to be outdoors providing charitable services. However, he was cautioned and received a fixed penalty notice of £60.

Speaking to Premier, he said: "I had a microphone, a speaker on wheels and a Gospel message that you can be saved through faith in Christ and to turn from the world and turn to Christ. 

"Many people were listening and we handed out leaflets to members of the public as well. It was just general outreach but it was Good Friday so there was an added weight to what we were doing.

"I was obviously very upset because I understand that it was a serious time for the country and the nations but I felt like we were well within our rights, and we were acting within the guidelines. 

"I'd been sent out by a church to preach the Gospel, and I was acting in that role. I felt like they were kind of targeting Christians. We weren't causing harm. We were just pointing to Christ and talking about Christ."

Sutcliffe successfully contested the fine at the City of London Magistrates Court earlier this month.

Handing down judgment, the Magistrate said: "We find the defendant not guilty on all charges.  We find that the defendant was outside and that he had a reasonable excuse as he was travelling to his place of work, as a worship leader.

"Whilst he was in a gathering and therefore in breach of regulation 7, however, the parties were together and were allowed to rely on articles 9, 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Their gathering was limited in duration, and they were entitled to gather for street evangelising."

Sutcliffe told the court on the way home he had given his shoes to a homeless man which wouldn't have been possible if he'd been preaching online. 

He told Premier that he was overjoyed to be vindicated by the court.

This ruling comes despite another judge last month upholding a Covid fine against another Christian preacher, Andrew Sathiyavan, who was out for the same reasons in London and over the same weekend as Mr Sutcliffe.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said in a statement: "We are pleased that the court has acquitted Joshua, but are concerned that it even made it this far.

"We are seeing a lot of inconsistencies from police and the judiciary in these cases.

"Christians have been easy targets for police during the pandemic while other groups gathering in significant numbers have been favoured by the police."

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