Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Nolan may be called as witness in trial of 'satanic Islam' preacher McConnell

By Adrian Rutherford

BBC presenter Stephen Nolan could be summoned as a witness in the trial of a preacher facing charges over an anti-Islamic sermon.

The dramatic development emerged as Pastor James McConnell reappeared in court yesterday.

The 78-year-old is facing two charges after describing Islam as "heathen" and "satanic".

A solicitor told Belfast Magistrates Court that Pastor McConnell would be contesting the charges, brought under the 2003 Communications Act.

Paul Dougan said there was significant support for the pastor.

"This case will be contested," he confirmed. "We have been inundated with scores of potential witnesses who wish to give evidence on behalf of Pastor McConnell."

Mr Dougan revealed the defence team is seeking to have a BBC broadcaster summoned to court.

The identity of the individual was not disclosed in court. However, a source close to the case confirmed that it was Stephen Nolan.

Mr Nolan carried out a number of TV and radio interviews with Pastor McConnell in the wake of his sermon last May.

Mr Dougan said they were "seeking the involvement" of "a particular broadcaster".

He said the matter "may require some judicial intervention".

"The BBC haven't been particularly forthcoming in relation to that at the moment," he added.

"There may be a requirement for us to make an application for a witness summons which would be done in the appropriate way."

Mr Dougan said he had been in touch with the BBC's legal department in London to seek clarification on its stance. He added: "There may be an application under Article 8(a) of the Magistrates Court Order for a witness summons and that may require input from the court."

Pastor McConnell, from Shore Road in Newtownabbey, is charged with 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.

The charges relate to an internet-broadcast sermon he delivered at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast last May.

During the sermon, Pastor McConnell described Islam as "heathen", "satanic" and "a doctrine spawned in hell".

He apologised following a public outcry, but earlier this year it emerged he would face prosecution.

Yesterday's hearing was told the case is likely to last five days. "We are saying, that because of all the legal and evidential issues in this case, that five court days would not be unreasonable," Mr Dougan added. He said there was "huge interest" in the case.

Solicitor Joe Rice, who is leading Pastor McConnell's defence, said they may seek to have the case thrown out. "We have not lost sight of a possible abuse of process application," he said.

Mr Rice said the defence team was still awaiting the disclosure of several documents, including a police officer's notebook entries.

The case was adjourned for four weeks to October 1.

Speaking outside court, Pastor McConnell claimed it was becoming "a hot potato" for the Public Prosecution Service. He vowed to fight the charges all the way.

"This is important not only for me, it is important for every minister of every denomination," he added.

"This is, I believe, a test case, and if they win this case, then they are against the Gospel."

Mr McConnell revealed he had received two death threats in the last six months.

"One minute my life is threatened, the next minute they're taking me to court," he added.

"I will go to court and I will testify for the Lord Jesus Christ and what he can do for Muslims and for Christians and for everyone."

Belfast Telegraph


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