[by Dean Smith] In September, 2013, while Rob Hughes, 34, was street preaching in Basildon, Essex, England, when a woman approached him.
She described herself as “gay and proud,” and immediately confronted Hughes. There was a brief, but heated discussion filled with colorful blue language — none of it expressed by Hughes. After the woman left, she called the police and accused Hughes of making homophobic comments.
Hughes works with a Christian group called Operation 513, which specializes in street evangelism. After he finished preaching, his group was handing out tracts, when two police officers approached Hughes and arrested him.
In an interview, Hughes said:
“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.”
However, Hughes, who lives in London, had done one additional thing. He had a dictaphone in his pocket on which he recorded his sermon. He told the police about the device, which they had already seized.
If the Essex police department wanted to find out the truth, all the arresting officers had to do was listen to the audio recording of the 20-minute sermon that included the confrontation. But Hughes said the police didn’t seem interested.
Eleven hours later, they finally released Hughes saying there was insufficient evidence for holding him.
Hughes who was represented by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) was eventually awarded 2,500 pounds ($3,800 US) in an out of court settlement for his unlawful arrest, plus legal costs. Speaking on behalf of CLC, Andrea Minichiello Williams 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.”
There were two disturbing things about this incident. First, the police presumed Hughes’ guilt, even with clear evidence he was innocent.
Secondly, the woman wanted to shut down the Christian gospel, even if it meant giving a false accusation to accomplish that goal.
59 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, 61 and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”62 The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 63 But Jesus kept silent.” (Matthew 26:59-63 NASV)