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This man does not hate anyone, priest tells court

By Rebecca Black

Published 17/12/2015

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson described controversial preacher Pastor James McConnell as delivering his sermon with force, but also with compassion.

The senior DUP politician told Belfast Magistrates Court that he has been attending the Whitewell Tabernacle - where Pastor McConnell was the senior cleric until last year - for three decades.

He sat through all three days of the pastor's trial and yesterday took the witness stand to defend Mr McConnell's character.

"I think anyone who attends his church will be informed in the most forceful terms as to what he believes the Bible expects people to do and how the Bible expects them to behave in their lives," he told the court.

"There is no ambiguity about what he says... (but) he says it not just with force, but with compassion.

"Anyone who attends his church knows that 'watery' is not a term you would associate with anything he says.

"I have listened to Pastor McConnell for 30 years when this country was in great turmoil."

Mr Wilson added: "While some people may find the message he preaches harsh at times, nevertheless, attached to that is the practised implication that God's love has to be delivered."

Catholic priest Father Patrick McCafferty was next to take the stand as a character witness. The north Belfast man revealed he met Pastor McConnell 20 years ago over a disagreement, but said the pair ended up friends, and insisted the cleric has "no hatred for anyone".

"Our first encounter with each other was through a very strong difference of opinion about the Catholic Church," he said.

"I went down to meet him, person to person, he and I spent two-and-a-half hours together and became friends out of the matter," he said.

"When the present situation arose I was anxious to do what I could to help him. Pastor McConnell has no hatred for anyone whatsoever. People in his church do not go out to cause trouble."

Jason Allen, a missionary acting for Whitewell Tabernacle in Kenya, described how Pastor McConnell sent him to assist those in need. He described how, since he had first gone to Kenya in 2010, he estimated they have helped 10,000 people, including many Muslims.

"The pastor was the person in authority who sent me and gave me the authority to do what I do in Kenya," he said.

Muslim academic Muhammad Al-Hussaini had produced a statement in support of Pastor McConnell and was present in court yesterday, but the judge ruled that it was not likely to help him in this case.

Pastor McConnell's defence barrister Philip Mateer said a number of people had been keen to provide a good character reference for his client.

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