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Lawyers for 'satanic Islam' preacher want radio host Stephen Nolan as witness

Published 01/10/2015

Pastor James McConnell surrounded by Christian supporters after appearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court
Pastor James McConnell surrounded by Christian supporters after appearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court
Pastor James McConnell is due to stand trial in December over a controversial sermon he made last year

Lawyers for an evangelical preacher who branded Islam "satanic" and "heathen" want BBC radio host Stephen Nolan to appear as a witness in the high-profile case, a court has heard.

Pastor James McConnell is due to stand trial in December charged in connection with a controversial sermon he made last year.

Defence solicitor Joe Rice told Belfast Magistrates' Court his legal team wants Mr Nolan, a Radio 5 Live and Radio Ulster presenter, summonsed.

"On this occasion Mr Nolan has regretfully said he is not prepared to assist. He has indicated through his BBC lawyers in London he will only assist if there is a court summons.

"On this occasion, as the pastor put it, Stephen Nolan is the biggest miss-show in the country."

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

He faces two charges - improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network - after remarks made from the pulpit of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast were streamed online.

Hundreds of Christian supporters attended Laganside Court Complex in Belfast city centre for the short hearing which had to be held in one of the largest courtrooms.

District Judge George Conner gave the defence team seven days to produce a written application outlining what evidence they believe Mr Nolan could provide.

The judge said: "I want to know what evidence the witness could reasonably give."

Mr Rice said the defence was also considering lodging an abuse of process application.

And, in a scathing attack on Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) he revealed his first "substantive" communication with prosecutors in a month was this morning - 45 minutes before the hearing was due to begin.

Handing the judge a letter which had been faxed to his office, the solicitor added: " The prosecution have adopted the tactic of the silo. We have been kept in the dark."

Prosecutor David Russell told the court there not been any undue delays in the case and the decision to proceed was made following a rigorous investigation which included lengthy consultations.

"This was an extremely careful and thorough process," he said.

Three days have been set aside for the trial which has been scheduled to start on December 14.

It was reduced from five days because four civilian Muslim witnesses were not being called by the PPS or McConnell, the court heard.

Throughout the hearing McConnell sat in the public gallery beside by friends and family members. His wife Margaret, who has accompanied him to previous hearings was not present. It is understood she is recovering after a fall.

Outside he, addressed a crowd of applauding and cheering supporters who were carrying banners which read "Christianity under persecution" and "civil and religious liberty for all".

He said: "This is for the defence of the gospel.

"As far as I am concerned the Muslim issue is over. The issue is the freedom of speech; the freedom of conscience; the freedom of worship and the freedom of preaching the gospel and saying what is in your heart.

"If they do put me in prison, when I get out again I will preach the same message.

"I hope I get my Christmas dinner. I will be there on December 14, 15 and 16. I am not running away, definitely not. I am going to take my stand for the Lord."

The hearing was adjourned for mention on October 29.

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