Leeds man who labelled church a ‘cult’ not guilty of harassing members whose accusations were an ‘exercise in pearl clutching'
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Lance Christie, 57, was acquitted yesterday (Wednesday) at Leeds Magistrates’ Court of one charge of harassment against eight members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church; including two of his sons and his nephew. It was heard that Christie delivered letters to their homes in December 2020 before sending emails to family members in 2021. He then sent another email to members that included links to YouTube videos criticising the “fundamentalist” group in April 2022.
The eight church members were cross examined on Monday and Tuesday, during which they said that the messages were “an attack on what’s precious” to them and had left them “distressed”.
The court heard that Christie had been a member of the church, which has a congregation in Horsforth, since birth but was excommunicated in 2017 due to acts of “heresy”. In the documents shared with members he accused the church of being a “cult” and said that the church had “caused him to lose his family and business”.
Closing remarks were read out by the prosecution and defence on Wednesday before the not guilty verdict was given.
Representing Christie, Simon Myerson KC said that the accusations made by the church members were “a concerted effort made out of vindictiveness and spite” and “an exercise in pearl clutching”. He said that the members “wanted to criminalise” Christie.
He said: “It’s perfectly clear this is a one-man church. What that means is is these people can’t say why they found it oppressive and unacceptable and what it amounts to is ‘I don’t like what I think is heresy’.
Mr Myerson emphasised that members had read the emails and clicked on the links to the videos of their own volition and said that their reasons for feeling harassed were “nonsense”. He said: “These are grown up choices. People are allowed to make them of course they but you can’t then say ‘now I have done that I’m harassed’. You have gone voluntarily to look at material that might upset you.
"People are allowed to follow faiths that can’t deal with challenge and insulate themselves from criticism if they think their faith will be shattered. But in this case the mechanism of delivery allowed for exactly that.”
In his closing remarks the representative for the prosecution, Robert Campbell said there was a “balancing act” when looking at Christie’s remarks of whether he had “overstepped the mark”. He said: “Where he oversteps the line is to email the people directly and draw their attention to matters they don’t want to hear.”
The district judge overseeing the trial, Timothy Capstick said that he had considered whether the contents of the information sent by Christie had been “oppressive and unacceptable”. He said: “While each complainant was upset at what they saw or read, none could actually explain when invited to do so what he found oppressive or unacceptable.”
He said that he believed the defendants were genuinely distressed by the material but rejected their reasons for reading it, saying: “The explanations given are at best disingenuous. The reality is they knew the content was going to be unwelcome if they read it.”