An interesting, and disturbing (mis)use of the Public Order Act, introduced in 1986 to tackle violent rioters and football hooligans.
Street preacher Dale McAlpine was handing out leaflets when a woman came up and engaged him in a debate about his faith. During their discussion, Mr McAlpine says he quietly listed homosexuality among a number of sins referred to in 1 Corinthians, including blasphemy, fornication, adultery and drunkenness.
The woman walked away at the conclusion of their discussion and was apparently then approached by a PCSO who spoke with her briefly. The PCSO then walked over to Mr McAlpine and informed him that a complaint had been made, and that he could be arrested for using racist or homophobic language.
The street preacher reportedly told the PCSO: ‘I am not homophobic but sometimes I do say that the Bible says homosexuality is a crime against the Creator’.
He claims that the PCSO then said he was homosexual and identified himself as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison officer for Cumbria police, to which Mr McAlpine apparently replied: ‘It’s still a sin.’
The preacher then began a twenty minute sermon, in which he says he mentioned drunkenness and adultery, but not homosexuality. Three regular uniformed police officers arrived on the scene during the address, arrested Mr McAlpine and put him in the back of a police van.
At the station, he was told to empty his pockets and his mobile telephone, belt and shoes were confiscated. Police took fingerprints, a palm print, a retina scan and a DNA swab. He was then charged under the Public Order Act.
At the preliminary hearing, Mr McAlpine pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting a trial date. It is not the first case of religious people being arrested under the Public Order Act, and probably won’t be the last.
Whatever happened to freedom of speech or freedom of belief?