Police say sorry to cafe owner threatened with arrest over Bible DVDs
By Jonathan Petre
Last updated at 11:06 PM on 8th October 2011
Police have apologised to a Christian cafe owner they threatened with arrest for displaying passages from the Bible on a television screen.
The Mail on Sunday told last month how Jamie Murray was visited by two officers who warned he was breaking the law by showing the DVDs.
But after our report appeared, another officer from Lancashire Constabulary visited Mr Murray’s cafe and admitted the force had misinterpreted the Public Order Act, which bans the use of insulting or abusive language – but allows the reasonable expression of religious beliefs.
Mr Murray, 31, welcomed the apology but said he would pursue an official complaint against the force because, he claims, it still refuses to admit he was threatened with arrest.
The two original officers visited his Salt and Light cafe in Blackpool after police received a complaint that Mr Murray was inciting hatred against homosexuals by showing New Testament DVDs.
Mr Murray said: ‘I accept the police apology as far as it goes, and I forgive them. But some things need to be cleared up.
‘They have said they were duty-bound to investigate me. But it wasn’t an investigation. They had already made up their minds I was in the wrong. They never asked to look at the Bible DVDs or asked my side of the story. They have also said they never banned me from showing the Bible DVDs. That’s not true.
‘I asked them straight – “Are you telling me I can’t show the Bible DVDs?”
They left me in no doubt that I risked being arrested if I continued to do so. I don’t want this to happen to other Christians. I won’t let the police brush this under the carpet.’
He claimed he was subjected to an ‘aggressive inquisition’ for nearly an hour and feared that if he did not switch off the DVDs, he might be led out of the cafe in handcuffs.
And he said he was told by WPC June Dorrian, the community beat manager, that if he continued to show offensive material under the Public Order Act, the police would have to ‘take the matter further’.
The Salt and Light cafe has for years repeatedly played the entire 26-hour-long Watchword Bible – a 15-DVD set produced in America in which a narrator reads the whole of the New Testament – on a small flatscreen TV on the back wall. The sound is turned down but the words flash on to the screen against a series of images.
Mr Murray worked in a homeless shelter for five years before taking over the cafe three months ago – and said it prides itself on being an oasis
of calm in a high-crime area of the seaside town.
The police’s original response provoked dismay among Christians, with former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe writing in a newspaper column: ‘Does the Chief Constable of Lancashire want to ban the Bible itself? After all, that is the logic of his position if what his force is doing meets with his approval.’
And Mike Judge of the Christian Institute, which is backing Mr Murray, said: ‘This incident is serious and needs to be dealt with through official channels. Too many police officers – not just in Lancashire – are using the Public Order Act to investigate Christians for expressing their beliefs.’
A spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary insisted they had merely ‘discussed’ the matter with Mr Murray ‘and at no point was he asked to remove any materials or arrested’.
Initially, the force had said they were satisfied the beat manager had performed her duties professionally and ‘the action we took was completely proportionate’.
However, the spokesman has now admitted: ‘The officer misinterpreted what she believed to be appropriate legislation. An apology has been made to the proprietor of the cafe for any distress we may have caused and this was accepted. As a result of this incident, the Constabulary is issuing guidance to staff.’