Sammy Wilson: Top prosecutor must be removed over Pastor McConnell

Sammy Wilson with Pastor McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates' Court
Sammy Wilson with Pastor McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates' Court

It was worth missing David Cameron’s climbdown on allowing ministers to campaign for the UK to leave the EU, in the House of Commons yesterday, in order to be in court in Belfast and celebrate with Pastor McConnell and hundreds of his congregation and supporters, when the judge announced he was not guilty of breaking the law.

Despite some of the gratuitous remarks with he made in his summing up the fact is that freedom of speech in the pulpit has been upheld.

This is a case which should never have been brought. What is our country coming to when a 78-year-old preacher is interrogated by the police, put through 18 months of judicial torture as the PPS seeks adjournment after adjournment, and is subjected to a three-day trial simply for declaring what he believes.

It is even worse considering what Sinn Fein politicians, Muslim preachers and supporters of terror groups have said publicly yet not one finger is raised against them.

This case was driven by the PPS and I believe that the Director of Public Prosecutions should now be removed from his office because of the role which the PPS and ultimately he played in the bringing about this show trial.

The facts are clear. After the manufactured furore regarding Pastor McConnell’s remarks unfolded, the police interviewed him and found that there was no evidence that he had tried to or been instrumental in stirring up race hatred.

The case should have proceeded no further at that point.

However it was the PPS which then decided to introduce the broadcasting legislation in order to find a way of getting the pastor into court and grasped at five words in a 40-minute sermon when he said he wouldn’t trust Muslims.

The pastor made it clear that he was not bunching every member of the Muslim community together.

In fact one of the ironies of this case was that the only Muslim called to give evidence was called on behalf of Pastor McConnell. Clearly he trusted a Muslim cleric to speak on his behalf whereas the PPS which had four statements of complaints from Muslims for one reason or other did not seem to trust them to give evidence to back up the case they had brought.

No public interest was served in bringing this case. In fact one could argue that the publicity around it generated more comment than the sermon itself.

Nor was the law on what can or cannot be said clarified by this case. The ruling of the magistrate does not give any guidance to preachers or anyone else as to what is or what is not acceptable language.

So what purpose did this case serve other than to reinforce the view of many, that to be an evangelical Christian in a secular society, where the institutions of the state are increasingly hostile to Christianity, means you are an easy target?

While Pastor McConnell was pulled in for questioning and dragged through the court, the Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy has not faced any sanction from the state despite his well broadcast racist and hate generating tweet that “the British are doing what they do best – murder”.

Lets see if the PPS sensitivity about offensive electronic communications extends to Sinn Fein or is it reserved for evangelical Christian ministers.

• Mr Wilson is DUP MP, East Antrim

Ben Lowry: It is hugely disturbing that Pastor McConnell was put in the dock