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Preacher shares his opinions on royals, Crusades and Trump

For many 78-year-olds, over an hour of cross-examination on the witness stand might be too much.

Not for the irrepressible Pastor James McConnell.

Smartly turned out in a navy suit, he was clearly pleased to have his say after two days of listening to legal arguments.

Within the blink of an eye, he was sitting in the witness box, looking expectantly at the legal benches, clearly raring to go.

He nodded with vigour when asked by the clerk if he would like to take the religious oath as he was sworn in.

Judge Liam McNally observed he seemed a "robust 78-year-old", but assured him he could take a break whenever he felt he needed one, and reminding the packed public gallery that they were in a courtroom, not a church, and to desist from applauding or cheering.

Pastor McConnell revisited his traumatic childhood, detailing how his parents died when he was a young man, but how he found God at the tender age of eight before making his first sermon at 13 and entering the ministry at 17.

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He described his belief that Satan is in this world, and agreed when asked by defence barrister Philip Mateer if he believed the Antichrist "influences people on this Earth".

"Were you looking at the prosecution when you said that?" the judge inquired.

During questioning, the court heard some of Pastor McConnell's views, including his reference to the royal family as that "weather-beaten House of Windsor".

He had stern words for Prince Charles and his expressed desire to be a defender of all faiths. "He is supposed to be the defender of the Christian faith, he wants to be the defender of all faiths, that is impossible... no man can serve two masters," he said.

When the pastor strayed on to the Crusades, the judge intervened to urge: "Let's just leave the Crusades", before Enoch Powell was discussed and then Donald Trump, to which the judge commented: "The only thing that surprises me is that it has taken three days for Trump to be mentioned."

The pastor spoke with most relish when he talked of his preaching and faith, and showed no sign of fatigue by the time Mr Mateer had finished questioning.

Next up was prosecuting barrister David Russell, who Pastor McConnell told: "I hope you'll be kind to me."

Mr Russell responded by reminding the pastor he could have a break whenever he needed. "I'll maybe need a break before you will," he added.

As the questioning became more intense Pastor McConnell was undaunted, unleashing his ire on the Stephen Nolan Show for its reporting of the remarks.

"It is actually the Nolan vs McConnell Show," the pastor declared. When asked by Mr Russell would he retract his comments about Muslims, he was obstinate and even challenged the barrister to put forward "original arguments", and at one stage he told Mr Russell to "read on" as a statement was read to court.

The pastor berated Mr Russell, asking him did he not see what was going on around the world, with reference to Islamic State.

Mr Russell later pointed out during summing up that it was his job to put forward the prosecution's case.

The judge again offered Pastor McConnell a 10-minute break, to which the cleric responded: "No, I want this over."

As the pastor returned to his seat, surrounded by friends and family, he appeared to remain alert as he watched missionary Jason Allen, DUP MP Sammy Wilson and Father Patrick McCafferty give evidence.

By early afternoon the final arguments had been made and the case closed. Pastor McConnell was surrounded by well-wishers as the court rose.

Leaving Belfast Magistrates Court flanked by supporters, he was greeted with rapturous applause and impromptu gospel singing.

Speaking of his relief that the trial was over, he thanked his loyal supporters and said he was keen to hear the outcome.

Having previously voiced fears that he might be having Christmas dinner in jail, he added that he was looking forward to Christmas and "plenty of turkey".

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