Belfast Telegraph

Cheers as celebrity cleric turns anger on PPS

By Adrian Rutherford

Like a celebrity, Pastor James McConnell exited Court 10 to the sound of applause and cheers from the gathering crowd.

It is not a comparison which would sit easily with the ageing preacher, now 78 and in poor health.

But in his own way he has become a cause celebre in a case which has placed freedom of speech itself in the dock.

The public gallery could seat just 40 of the several hundred supporters who had queued patiently outside the courtroom.

Pastor McConnell, dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and purple tie, sat in the front row beside his wife and family members. The room emptied as quickly as it had filled at the conclusion of the 10-minute hearing.

As he walked into the corridor outside, he was warmly greeted.

The applause briefly settled as he addressed the crowd.

After thanking them for showing their solidarity, Pastor McConnell turned his anger on the Public Prosecution Service. "Either try me and put me in prison or I am free to preach the Gospel," he urged.

As he walked away, some of the crowd began singing Onward Christian Soliders. Outside the building, met by more supporters, Pastor McConnell said he was looking forward to taking the stand.

"It will be my day in court - am I going to come here and just say nothing? No way," he vowed.

Asked what he would say, he replied: "I will tell them that I love the Lord Jesus Christ." He added: "I will stand firm on the Gospel. I will not relent one inch."

To loud cheers, he again hit out at the Public Prosecution Service.

"The prosecution are extremely disappointing - this is the second time they have brought me to court and now they want me back on October 1," he added.

"They haven't done their homework well - they're on the run. We are going to win."

His solicitor Joe Rice also called for the case to be thrown out.

"We hope the PPS takes the correct decision and meaningful decision not to proceed with this prosecution by October 1," he said.

Mr Rice branded the case "bizarre and peculiar".

"It should never have been brought to court in the first place," he added. Among the crowd were DUP MPs Sammy Wilson and Nigel Dodds.

Mr Dodds told the Belfast Telegraph: "There are principles of free speech at stake here which are fundamental to the way in which the United Kingdom operates. We have to stand firm on the basis of principles on which this country was founded and on which this country has always taken a lead."

Belfast Telegraph

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