Larne anti-gay preacher arrested by PSNI over ‘hate speech’ claim is cleared of all charges

A street preacher arrested by the PSNI in Larne after preaching against homosexuality has been cleared of all charges in court.

Police were called to investigate reports that Ryan Williamson (44) was committing hate speech in Larne on 10 August last year. However when they arrived and directed him to stop preaching he refused, and they arrested him for disorderly behavior.

In Ballymena Magistrates Court today Mr Williamson, from Banbridge, pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly behaviour and was found not guilty, with the case being dismissed.

Mr Williamson’s solicitor, Paul Dougan from John J Rice Solicitors in Belfast, welcomed the outcome.

Gospel preacher Ryan Williamson, 44, is arrested by PSNI officers for suspected disorderly behaviour after refusing to stop preaching in Larne town centre in August 2021. He was dearrested 30 minutes later and went back to preaching.

“We never believed that it was disorderly behaviour,” he told the News Letter. “Obviously Mr Williamson was innocent until proven guilty. And it is quite clear from the court today that the judge, having heard the evidence, dismissed the prosecution’s case as not having satisfied the burden of proof that it was disorderly behaviour.

“The judge agreed with our submission that what was being spoken about publicly was well within Mr Williamson’s [European] convention rights - articles ten and eleven - and the judge agreed with that.”

He added: “From a defense perspective I think they shouldn’t have taken the case, because as we said from the outset, this was never a scenario of disorderly behaviour as defined by the statute.”

However he added that the PSNI, PPS and judge were all “simply doing their jobs”. 

Mr Williamson told the News Letter the first witness against him, a woman, told District Judge Nigel Broderick he had preached “that trans lives don’t matter”, which he said he totally rejected when he took the stand.

The arresting PSNI officer also took the stand to give evidence, he said.

“In essence he was saying that he thought there was hate speech but that they were prosecuting me on public order grounds. He said he had tried to get me to stop preaching but that I was not cooperative.

“He also brought out that I preached that the PSNI is ‘not fit for service’ as it was standing for the LGBT community. He said that was a possible public order issue.

“But I responded that I said that because we had been continually harrassed by the PSNI over a protracted period of time in Larne that there was an obvious bias against the gospel and bibical sexual ethics being preached in the street.

“In other words, they were being protective of the LGBT community in my estimation.”

The PSNI provided a two minute video clip of the incident, he said, while he provided a clip of about six minutes long. 

His barrister, Luke Breen, told the court that the European Convention of Human Rights protected his rights to freedom of expression and religion.

“His main argument was that my actions were protected under the Convention and that we were well within our rights to exercise these rights and that the police should not be interfering. And he said that in fact the PSNI should be protecting these rights in some instances.”

Mr Williamson said that his barrister provided case law on these rights which Judge Broderick studied.

“And he said, yes, according to this we were well within our rights and that ‘according to this Mr Williamson was not committing a crime’.

“But he did add that I should think about the possibility that I might have been guilty of an obstruction and suggested I should be more cooperative. However I explained to him that on this occasion I had only just started preaching when the police showed up and I wanted to finish my message; on many other occasions I had cut my message short to speak to them.”

Mr Williamson said they offered to the court some six other clips of previous PSNI intervention during their preaching in Larne.

He told the News Letter they had returned to Larne to preach at least twice since he was arrested - and that he would not be doing anything different in future.

“We have not done anything illegal, we have not done anything wrong.”

If the police come and ask him to stop and speak to them in future, he said he would respond “on a case by case basis”. Mr Williamson said he was reprimanded several times by the judge for “going on too long”.

“He told me, ‘You are not in Larne preaching now Mr Williamson, just stick to the points’”.

He now believes the PSNI need to reflect on the case.

“I think the PSNI needs some education on these issues - they don’t seem to realise that they have an obligation to protect freedom of expression and freedom of religion under the European Convention.

“They have bought into the narrative of the LGBT community which has painted us almost as criminals when it is clear we are not. But the PSNI have been emboldening people in the LGBT community against us by arresting us and continually confronting us in response to allegations of hate speech.

“I would say I have been physically assaulted about a dozen times while preaching over the past year. Police need to be doing a lot more to protect our human rights. Some of them have been very helpful. One guy punched me in the face two weeks ago in Belfast and was arrested by the PSNI soon after.”

Mr Williamson said that he does not always preach on LGBT issues but does so about 50% of the time. “We preach on a wide range of issues.”

Invited to comment, a PSNI spokeswoman responded: “We accept the findings of the court.”

Last week a similar case against him and two other street preachers was dismissed in Dundalk District Court.

Larne based independent catholic Bishop Fr Pat Buckley has frequently demonstrated against Mr Williamson when he preaches in the town.

He offered only a very short comment on the outcome of the case, expressing strong dissatisfaction with the law and with street preachers in general, like Mr Williamson.

“I hope they stay from Larne,” he told the News Letter. “We don’t want them here”.

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