Confusion over ‘threat’ to burn down Ballynahinch dispute church

Parishioners leave a Sunday service during the height of the dispute in September 2013
Parishioners leave a Sunday service during the height of the dispute in September 2013

The recipient of a text message threat that a church at the centre of a bitter dispute “will be burnt to the ground” last night said he and other church trustees are deciding whether to bring charges against the culprit.

Ballynahinch Congregational Church trustee Samuel Graham spoke to the News Letter after a PSNI spokeswoman said: “Police have made inquiries in relation to a report of a threat against a church property in the Ballynahinch area and established that there was no such threat.”

When asked about Mr Graham’s claims that he was told someone had been apprehended, a PSNI spokeswoman told the News Letter their statement remained the same.

Mr Graham is one of the lead protestors in the Ballynahinch Congregational Church saga which hit the headlines in September 2013 after police were called to deal with warring factions within the congregation.

The dispute began over the running of the church.

Earlier Mr Graham said Rev George Speers was voted out of his position but has refused to leave and “still lives in the church manse”.

In 2013 Rev Speers was escorted by the PSNI from church amid jeers of ‘out, out, out’ from the pews.

Since September 2013 protestors have staged a series of walkouts from Rev Speers’ services.

They also held placard protests during which they stood outside the church brandishing signs bearing Bible verses. They also held their services in the adjoining church hall on the same site.

Mr Graham, who received the threat around a fortnight ago and brought it to the attention of the PSNI and fellow church trustees, last night said: “I have clarification that at this minute the trustees are deciding what happens as to whether we wanted to prosecute or not.

“I announced in church today what the police told me – that they had apprehended someone for the threat.”

He said he “could not believe the police have said there was no such threat”.

Mr Graham said since the start of the protest he has received hundreds of texts “most of them I take with a pinch of salt and I don’t think about, but when someone makes the threat ‘that church will be burned to the ground’ I had to do something”.

“I had the numbers the text came through on.”

Mr Graham added: “People will never understand what we have had to put with.”

He claimed he has had five tyres destroyed on cars at the church.