Relatives of a dead preacher in Dorset have failed in an attempt to clear his name after he was convicted of holding up a sign in the town centre of Wimborne that called for an end to homosexuality, lesbianism and immorality.
Lord Justices May and Harrison, senior judges at the High Court in London, ruled yesterday (January 13) that the late Harry Hammond, who was 69 at the time, had been “properly convicted” of a criminal offence by Wimborne magistrates in April 2002.
Court dismissed the argument that Mr. Hammond’s freedom of religious expression had been interfered with and it infringed his human rights.
The judges ruled: “One has to bear in mind the cardinal importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society such as ours.” But they added that the magistrates had been entitled to conclude that Mr Hammond’s behaviour “went beyond legitimate protest, was provoking violence and disorder and interfered with the rights of others”.
At the time, the sign displayed by Mr. Hammond created a brouhaha, with a group of 40 people gathering around him. He had water and soil thrown over him.
The late Mr. Hammond, described as an evangelical Christian, had been convicted under the Public Order Act, 1986,
Today, a spokesman for Outrage! welcomed the court’s ruling. “It is too early to say whether this case sets a legal precedent,” he said. “But it does send out a strong message that there are limits on free speech, especially to those preaching a gospel of hate.”