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Jailed messenger tells of faith ordeal

PUBLISHED: 22:22 26 December 2001 | UPDATED: 15:22 03 March 2010

CHRISTIAN crusader Francis Gilbert today spoke out after being jailed for putting up a noticeboard in his front garden to display religious messages.

Gilbert, 74, has spoken to the Evening Star about his shock at being sent to prison – and how it took five people to arrest him, even though he was not violent.

CHRISTIAN crusader Francis Gilbert today spoke out after being jailed for putting up a noticeboard in his front garden to display religious messages.

Gilbert, 74, has spoken to the Evening Star about his shock at being sent to prison – and how it took five people to arrest him, even though he was not violent.

Gilbert owes £408 in court fines and costs after refusing to take down his sign at his home in Foxgrove Gardens, Felixstowe.

He said his strong faith got him through the miserable and horrible experience of jail, and now he is looking forward to a peaceful festive season, though he is not giving up his fight to keep his sign.

Gilbert was jailed for seven days, though only served part of the sentence imposed by South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court.

But he has criticised the justice system, which allowed him to be imprisoned before he completed his process of appeals through the High Court over his conviction.

The former teacher had made application for leave to seek a judicial review of his case, but the High Court did not mention this in letters to the magistrates and only cited the two previous applications he had had rejected.

"The High Court has not decided on my application. I feel the magistrates' court reneged on its promise, indeed on its obligation, to await the court's decision," said Gilbert.

The High Court had accepted his £30 fee. Maureen Walker, secretary to the head of the administrative court office, had confirmed on the phone that his application had been received but then had not mentioned in a letter to the magistrates that he had even made an application.

Previously, magistrates said they would await the outcome of the High Court case before deciding whether to imprison Gilbert for non-payment of £408 in fines and costs imposed for breaching planning regulations.

He put the £1,500 cabinet-style noticeboard – on which he displays religious and humanitarian messages – in his garden to replace a 30-year-old sign.

Suffolk Coastal councillors refused permission for the replacement, despite officers' advice that it should receive consent.

Gilbert was unhappy by the way he was arrested at court.

He also had to leave behind his wheelchair-bound fellow campaigner Rose Carter, 83, who had accompanied him in his fight to keep the noticeboard.

"Five of them gripped my arms very tight. I pleaded with them to let go, since I hadn't hit anyone. Five people on to a man of 74," he said.

"I told the magistrates it would do no good for the court to send me to prison, one who is only trying to do the public good. What was on my sign was not offensive."

He also objected to their insistence that he was wilfully refusing to pay the fine.

"I said that I had not wilfully refused to pay the fine and costs imposed. Since I was maintaining my innocence all along in my case, I should be both a fool and a liar. It is a trap set me, because if I paid a penny it would mean that I was saying that I had been guilty and wrong in my case," he said.

He had previously taken his battle with Suffolk Coastal through the magistrates' courts, crown court, and High Court twice to see if he could have it reopened and conviction quashed, to a planning appeal and to the Ombudsman.

He still has the illegal noticeboard in his garden and believes the council will now apply through the county court to tear down the board.

Councillors refused the sign because it would harm the streetscene and create a precedent for people advertising in their gardens. Both the council and court had said the material displayed on the board is not the issue.


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