Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 29 May 2016

Judgement reserved in 'heathen Islam sermon' Pastor McConnell trial in Belfast

Published 16/12/2015

Pastor James McConnell said he never intended to provoke or offend Muslims
Pastor James McConnell said he never intended to provoke or offend Muslims

Judgement has been reserved in the landmark trial of evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell accused of insulting Islam.

The retired head of Whitewell Tabernacle, one of the largest evangelical congregations in Northern Ireland, took to the witness stand today on day three of the case against him.

McConnell, 78, from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act.

Pastor McConnell is facing two charges linked to a sermon delivered at Whitewell Tabernacle in May, 2014. He branded Islam as "heathen" and "satanic" and said he did not trust Muslims.

The prosecution lay out their case on Monday, while Tuesday was dominated with complex legal arguments as Pastor McConnell's legal team argued the case should be thrown out.

On Wednesday Pastor McConnell took to the witness stand himself and was cross questioned about his sermon, as well as comments he made to the Stephen Nolan Show.

He said: "I had never any intention whatsoever of hurting any one of them and I can say that before the judge and before the almighty God.

"It never entered my head that someone would take me up on that. I was preaching this in the confines of my own church. There are Muslims there who know me and understand me. It never entered my head."

The judge, who described the three-day trial as "interesting", is expected to give his verdict on January 5.

District Judge Liam McNally told a packed sitting of Belfast Magistrates' Court: "Obviously I am going to reserve my judgment. I want to consider all the points raised in submissions."

He said: "I should concentrate my mind by giving myself a deadline. I want to wish you all a happy and holy Christmas."

Speaking outside court, Pastor McConnell said he was satisfied at how the trial had gone.

He said: "It has been fair. The prosecution has been fair, everybody has been fair. I can't wait now to January 5."

Supporters sang hymns and clapped as the Pastor emerged from court.

Earlier today under questioning by defence barrister Philip Mateer QC, the pastor outlined his reasons for refusing a lesser punishment of an informed warning.

He said: "If I took that, it would be an insult to the one that I love, for I was standing up for him, for his gospel and for his truth. If I took that informed warning that would be me gagged.

"I will take my stand no matter what happens here today."

Judgement will be delivered on January 5.

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