Father given police warning over church row

An argument over church rent has landed a Jewish father-of-three with a police harassment warning.

Martyn Saunders-Rawlings, a former member of Hastings and Bexhill Jewish Society, had protested against a council decision to lease a building to an evangelical group at a reduced rate and with an annual grant.

He wrote to Cathy and Glenn Khan, who run Hastings’ Sonrise Church, as well as sending letters and emails to other church leaders and his local newspaper during the past year.

But the 51-year-old received a “First Course of Conduct Harassment Warning” from Sussex police, telling him he could be prosecuted if he continues to make contact with the couple, stalks them or maliciously damages their property.

Mr Saunders-Rawlings said he had only contacted the Khans twice, once by email and once by letter, and claimed police had behaved “abominably” in issuing the harassment notice.

The art consultant said: “The thrust of my objection was that it amounted to my taxes being given to an organisation telling me my family and I should convert to Christianity.

“I have not written anything you would not write to your maiden aunt.
“In cases such as this the police have carte blanche. It’s not far short of saying one is a paedophile. The suggestion is that because I objected to the church on theological grounds, it equates to peeing through their letterbox. It’s quite bizarre.”

But Sussex Police Inspector Mark Bright said Mr Saunders-Rawlings’ behaviour had warranted the action.

“We tried to engage with him on the matter and he refused,” he said.
“This went beyond the right of freedom of speech: we considered he was harassing the couple.

“If the behaviour continues we would note the fact he has already been warned and consider further action.”

Mr Saunders-Rawlings’ solicitor has now written to the police asking for the “unjustified” warning to be withdrawn. Police say this will not happen.

Last updated: 4:00pm, July 17 2009