Cornhill street preacher guilty of breaching Covid lockdown rules

Ipswich Cornhill

Paul Dawson was preaching on the Cornhill during lockdown - Credit: Charlotte Bond

An Ipswich man has been fined for breaching Covid-19 regulations by preaching on the streets of Ipswich during lockdown.

Paul Dawson was convicted of breaching regulations, but found not guilty of committing a public order offence, following a trial at Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Monday.

The 42-year-old cloud security engineer, of Regatta Quay, was approached by police on the Cornhill shortly before noon on February 21.

Pc Sian Goodman said a member of the public had reported Dawson preaching about the Covid-19 vaccine and that coronavirus was a "punishment from God".

"There was quite a lot of strong feeling from members of the public who were walking past and getting quite upset by the things he was saying," she told the court.

Pc Goodman told Dawson that, in her interpretation of regulations, his reason for being outside did not constitute a reasonable excuse.

She said Dawson confirmed he understood but made no attempt to return home and became argumentative when she promised to remain until he left the area – departing only when threatened with a fixed penalty notice.

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Dawson told magistrates that the government's restrictions on movement included a reasonable excuse for leaving home to attend a place of worship.

He said further online guidance defined parks and outdoor spaces as safe for use as places of worship, but was unable to produce evidence that guidance was valid before amendments were made in March.

Dawson told the court: "I'm a preacher of the gospel. 

"I did exactly what I was instructed to do by the lord god, our saviour, Jesus Christ.

"The Bible is quite specific about not fearing pandemics.

"The first thing I said was that God loves Ipswich and that he has sent someone to warn people the end is coming.

"Police said I was spreading misinformation about Covid-19 and that the public are being punished by God. That's not true."

Dawson argued he was free to express his opinions under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said that he had also been preaching against abortion and homosexuality "as a sin", but not directly at anyone to cause offence.  

Dawson was cleared of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour, but was found guilty of breaching Covid-19 regulations, fined £250 and ordered to pay £620 in court costs.