A STREET preacher who regularly broadcasts his message in Taunton town centre has been found guilty of a religiously aggravated public order offence.
Michael Overd, 52, of Arundells Way, Creech St Michael, and fellow Christian Michael Stockwell, of Selden, New York, were arrested after using what police deemed to be offensive language in Bristol city centre.
Officers acted following complaints from members of the public about their activities in Broadmead last July.
The Crown Prosecution Service authorised the men to be charged with a religiously aggravated public order offence, which falls under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Overd and Stockwell denied the charges but have been found guilty today (Tuesday) following a trial at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
They were both fined £300 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £30. They will also have to jointly pay court costs of £3,372.
An application for a Criminal Behaviour Order against Overd will be heard in May.
The case against a third man, 51-year-old Adrian Clark, of St Werburghs, Bristol, was dismissed by magistrates during the trial.
Ch Insp Andy Williams said: “The police have to strike the balance between the right to freedom of expression and free speech and behaviour that causes a member of the public to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of what is said or done.
“The court has today determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language.
“They recorded their preaching on a Go-Pro camera which captured the exact words used and the reaction of those listening.
"They were fully aware of the impact their preaching was having on their audience and the resulting tension it was causing.
“We took statements from 13 members of the public and I’m grateful for their wholehearted support of our investigation and to those who gave evidence in court.
“Bristol is a diverse city which is proudly respectful and tolerant of different perspectives and views and this conviction underlines our commitment to work with the community to keep the city free from hate and intolerance.”
Overd has been in court before for expressing his views in Taunton town centre - a previous guilty verdict was overturned at an appeal.