Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland street preacher told woman in wheelchair she should 'burn in Hell'

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher
Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher
David McConnell

By Staff Reporter

A street preacher from Co Londonderry who told a wheelchair user she should "burn in Hell" has been convicted of disorderly behaviour.

David McConnell, of Liswatty Road, Coleraine, appeared at the town's magistrates court yesterday on his 62nd birthday.

He was also convicted of resisting a police officer in the execution of his duty.

The defendant, who has been preaching on the streets of the town for several years, had denied the offences.

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, who works in the field of biomedical science, told the court she was in her wheelchair with her daughter and her daughter's friend at Church Street in Coleraine on March 31, 2018.

"This gentleman jumped out in front of me with a placard and asked me if I was a Christian. I answered, 'I don't think that's any of your business'," she said.

She said the defendant then became agitated and shouted that she would "rot in Hell", that she was "evil" and that "people like you should burn in Hell".

Dr Hannon-Fletcher said the shouting was very loud and others in the street could hear what the defendant was saying.

She added: "I was horrified, completely shocked that somebody could act so violently and viciously."

Dr Hannon-Fletcher said she saw two police officers nearby and told them what happened.

Defence barrister Francis Rafferty said the defendant had told him he asked the witness if she had "faith in God", but didn't say anything about going to Hell or that she was evil. Mr Rafferty asked if it was possible she had misconstrued what had been said, but Dr Hannon-Fletcher told the court: "I heard him very clearly."

A police officer told the court he heard a "bit of commotion" whilst on foot patrol with a colleague and the defendant was shouting "religious things" at members of the public and looked "quite aggressive".

He said Dr Hannon-Fletcher approached and said she had been "verbally abused" by the defendant. The officer said that when McConnell was arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour he replied after caution: "You don't like Christians."

The officer said when a police car arrived, the defendant tried to pull away and four officers were needed to get him into it.

The officer's body-worn footage was played to the court in which the defendant could be heard saying: "You can't arrest me, I'm a Christian, I'm doing my Christian duties." As he struggled with officers he said: "God is the law - he is the boss."

Mr Rafferty said the defendant was classed as a "vulnerable adult with a certain degree of mental infirmity".

Entering the witness box, the defendant said he would not be swearing on the Bible and instead made an affirmation.

He said he had asked the witness if she believed in God and after being told to mind his own business he "said no more".

The defendant said: "I'm serving the Lord for 40 years. God gave me love to share this love."

He said he preached that people "will have to stand before God".

Convicting the defendant of disorderly behaviour and resisting police, District Judge Peter King that Dr Hannon-Fletcher had been left "horrified" and "shocked" and said anyone feeling that way while going about their day-to-day business deserved to be protected.

He told the defendant: "You do not have carte blanche to offend people... and act in a disorderly fashion."

Judge King said he would defer sentencing until the autumn.

He imposed a three-year restraining order meaning McConnell is not to pester or harass Dr Hannon-Fletcher.

Judge King asked the defendant if he was going to apologise to the injured party, but he replied: "I apologise to God."

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