A retired couple have won out of court damages after being questioned by police regarding their views on homosexuality.
Devout Christians, Joe Roberts 73, and his wife Helen, 68, of Fleetwood, Lancashire, wrote to Wyre Borough Council accusing them of “pandering” to minority groups by distributing leaflets about homosexuality in their buildings.
They said they felt discriminated against.
The retired couple faced a police investigation for “potentially homophobic” comments in December after objecting to Wyre Borough Council’s stance on gay issues.
Wyre Borough Council felt some of the wording in the letter of complaint was inappropriate and decided to consult with the police. They were questioned but officers decided no crime had been committed. The policemen who interviewed the couple told them their request had been close to a ‘hate crime.’
Backed by The Christian Institute, the Roberts sought apologies from the Police and the Council.
They sued the Police and the Council for, amongst other things, interfering with their rights to free speech and religious liberty. A trial date had been set for 17 January 2007 in the High Court, but now the Police and the Council have settled the matter out of court. The Police and the Council will pay legal costs and will also pay compensation to Joe and Helen Roberts. The Roberts will give all compensation money to a Christian charity.
Joe and Helen Roberts said: “We are delighted at the result. It has been a long year battling this case and we are so pleased that common sense has prevailed.”
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said, “This is a tremendous victory for free speech and religious liberty. It will help protect Christians everywhere and preserve our liberty to publicly express our beliefs. We are particularly thankful for the very positive attitude of Lancashire Police in bringing this case to a successful conclusion. The Police have made it clear that the door is open for further discussion about how they can improve their policy in this area. I hope that this will go a long way to restoring the confidence of Christians in Lancashire as to how similar incidents will be dealt with in the future.
“There are lessons to be learnt for police forces everywhere and I particularly hope that they will take note of the Roberts case. We will continue to be very vigilant.”
The case is likely to bring more tensions between Christian groups and the gay community over equality laws. Opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland was quashed this week in the High Court.