Christian preachers win appeals over shopping centre sermon

Michael Overd (left) and Michael Stockwell
Image caption Michael Overd (left) and Michael Stockwell were arrested after a sermon in Bristol city centre

Two street preachers who were fined for a sermon delivered to shoppers have won appeals against their convictions.

Michael Overd, 53, and Michael Stockwell, 51, were convicted of a religiously-aggravated public order offence in February.

But judges at Bristol Crown Court said it was not proved the offence was religiously aggravated.

After the hearing, Mr Overd said he was a "Christian soldier" and would return to preach.

The men were filmed in July 2016 preaching at Broadmead Shopping Centre in Bristol.

Image copyright Simon Holliday
Image caption Michael Overd (left) was arrested while preaching in the Broadmead shopping centre

Mr Overd, of Creech St Michael, Somerset, and Mr Stockwell, of Selden, New York, were fined £300 each and also ordered to jointly pay court costs of £3,372.

But His Honour Judge Picton overruled the conviction, saying he was "conscious of the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression".

Speaking outside court, Mr Overd said he was "very sad" that "this is what this country has come to".

"This is not an isolated case. How many times must we go to court before there is respect for the law?

"My heart bleeds for this country, but I am a patriot and I will be back on the streets to preach."

'Great victory'

Mr Overd added: "My life is not my own. I am a Christian soldier and I rejoice in this prosecution."

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which supported the men, said the ruling was a "victory for freedom of speech".

Mr Stockwell added: "People should be free to express their beliefs in public, without risk of harm, violence or other repercussions.

"That's why today's result is such a great victory."

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