Pastor McConnell trial date set to take place before Christmas

Pastor McConnell
Pastor McConnell

The case against a prominent preacher accused of branding Islam “satanic” and “heathen” is on track for a pre-Christmas trial, a court has been told.

Pastor James McConnell faces two charges connected to a controversial sermon he made from the pulpit of his Belfast church last year.

During a brief hearing at Laganside Magistrates’ Court, defence solicitor Cathy Mulhern confirmed dates had been fixed for a December hearing.

The purpose of the mention, she told District Judge George Conner, was to ensure progress was being made in the high-profile case.

Ms Mulhern said: “It was to make sure that matters are still on track. I understand that they are.”

McConnell, 78, from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is being prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act.

He faces two charges - improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network – after remarks made from the pulpit of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast were streamed online.

The evangelical fundamentalist, who denies the charges, was excused from appearing at the hearing which lasted less than two minutes.

As a result, hundreds of Christian supporters who have previously protested outside the court were also absent.

Three days have been set aside for the trial, which is scheduled to start on December 14, and lawyers are currently liaising over the provision of statements, the court was told.

District Judge Conner said he was grateful for any action which “shortens the timetable”.

The hearing has been adjourned for mention on December 3.

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Pastor McConnell was not present at the latest brief hearing.

When he was last in court, on September 3, the News Letter’s reporter was standing right beside him as he emerged from the courtroom to be greeted by a sea of well-wishers, who thronged the waiting area of the modern, glass-fronted Laganside court complex.

Confronted with such a large crowd of followers, he adopted the manner of a preacher in a pulpit, telling them: “We’re defending the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

The supporters also broke into a spontaneous rendition of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, before the pastor called on them to disperse.

Outside, he was greeted by yet more people, some of whom had come from as far as Germany in a show of solidarity.