Police to quiz Belfast pastor over Islam comments

Pastor James McConnell
Pastor James McConnell

The Belfast preacher at the centre of an anti-Muslim row has been contacted by the PSNI regarding their hate crime investigation.

Pastor James McConnell caused controversy when he described Islam as “satanic” and “heathen”.

During a sermon at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 18, the pastor also described Islam as “a doctrine spawned in hell”.

Within days of a video of the sermon being posted online, the PSNI confirmed they had received a complaint and were investigating a “hate crime motive”.

At the time, Mr McConnell said: “I am prepared and if they put me in jail I will go to jail, but I will not retract what I have said.”

In recent days Mr McConnell said he hadn’t heard from the police but was unconcerned about any potential investigation. However, yesterday he confirmed an approach by the PSNI.

“Yes, they are going to speak to me, definitely. They have been in contact,” he said.

The row escalated when First Minister Peter Robinson expressed support for some of the pastor’s comments and his right to free speech.

On Friday the son of Lord Bannside, Rev Kyle Paisley, described Mr Robinson’s own views on Islam as “deeply insulting”, calling him “an ignoramus”.

Last night a DUP spokesman said the party “regretted that Kyle decided to make such comments”.

When contacted yesterday Mr McConnell – who has defended his opinions in the media – declined to comment on claims he is likely to be given a PSNI caution.

Asked if a date had been set for a police interview, Mr McConnell said: “I’m not telling you.”

He replied “no comment” when asked if he would be happy to accept an adult caution if given one by the PSNI.

Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan TV show on Wednesday night, Mr McConnell said: “What are they investigating? It’s freedom of speech, I’m allowed to say this.”

The comments of both Mr McConnell and the DUP leader have been broadcast around the world, including on the Al Jazeera network to more than 200 million homes.

Closer to home, Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre said similar comments from other sources had resulted in Muslims being attacked in the street.

He said: “These are irresponsible comments coming from a person who is supposed to be in a responsible position.

“This is really inflammatory language and demonising all Muslims.”

Mr Al-Wazzan added: “This is the first time we hear of such language in Northern Ireland, and this is definitely irresponsible.”