A STREET preacher who reportedly shouted at a woman she should “burn in Hell” has told a judge after being fined £300: “I honour my Savour The Lord in Heaven”.
David McConnell (62), of Liswatty Road, Coleraine, appeared at the town’s Magistrates Court on Monday for sentencing after previously being convicted of disorderly behaviour and resisting a police officer in the execution of his duty.
He was also given an 18 months conditional discharge on Monday and had previously been made the subject of a three year Restraining Order not to pester or harass the woman he had verbally abused.
The defendant, who has been preaching on the streets of the town for several years, had denied the offences but was found guilty in June this year.
During the contest, Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, who works in the field of biomedical science, gave evidence in court and said she was in her wheelchair and was accompanied by her daughter and her daughter’s friend at Church Street in Coleraine on the afternoon of Saturday March 31 in 2018.
“This gentleman jumped out in front of me with a placard and asked me if I was a Christian. I answered ‘I don’t think that’s any of your business’.”
She said the defendant then became agitated and shouted that she would “rot in Hell”, that she was “evil” and that “people like you should burn in Hell”.
Dr Hannon-Fletcher said the shouting was very loud and others in the street could hear what the defendant was saying.
She added: “I was horrified, completely shocked that somebody could act so violently and viciously”.
She said she was in shock that someone could tell a complete stranger that they should ‘rot in Hell’.
Dr Hannon-Fletcher said she saw two police officers walking nearby and told them what happened.
A police officer told the earlier court he heard a “bit of commotion” whilst on foot patrol with a colleague and the defendant was shouting “religious things” at members of the public and looked “quite aggressive”,
He said Dr Hannon-Fletcher approached and said she had been “verbally abused” by the defendant.
The officer said that when McConnell was arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour he replied after caution: “You don’t like Christians”.
The policeman said that when a police car arrived on the scene the defendant tried to pull away and four officers were needed to get him into the vehicle.
The officer’s body-worn footage was played to the court in which the defendant could be heard saying: “You can’t arrest me, I’m a Christian, I’m doing my Christian duties”.
As he struggled with officers he said: “God is the law, He is the Boss”.
Defence barrister Francis Rafferty had told the contested hearing the defendant was classed as a “vulnerable adult with a certain degree of mental infirmity” who was annoyed at the attitude the police had taken.
At the contest the defendant told the court: “I’m serving the Lord for 40 years. God gave me love to share this love”.
He said he preached that people “will have to stand before God”.
The defendant said police had approached him in a “very wrong” way and an officer caught him by the arm without telling him what he was being arrested for.
A prosecution lawyer said the defendant was advised several times why he was being arrested.
The defendant said he had been handing out tracts but couldn’t recall what his placard said.
Convicting the defendant of the offences of disorderly behaviour and resisting police at the court in June, District Judge Peter King said that Dr Hannon-Fletcher had been left “horrified” and “shocked” and said anyone feeling that way while going about their day-to-day business deserved to be protected.
The judge said we live in a rights based society with has civil and religious freedom for all but he said rights were not absolute.
He told the defendant in June: “You do not have carte blanche to offend people” and act in a disorderly fashion.
In mitigation, Mr Rafferty had said the defendant had a “minor” criminal record.
The prosecutor told the June court because of what happened the injured party was now less likely to go into Coleraine town centre on Saturdays where the defendant was still preaching.
In June, Judge King deferred sentencing until now saying if the defendant avoided any further public order offences in relation to street preaching the case would likely be dealt with by fines but if there was “further abuse of your right to free speech and assembly” he could face a tougher sentence and an Anti-Social Behaviour Order banning him from Coleraine town centre on Saturdays.
The judge had said Dr Hannon-Fletcher required a degree of protection from the defendant and he had made a three year restraining order meaning McConnell was not to pester or harass her.
In June, Judge King asked the defendant if he was going to apologise to the injured party but he replied: “I apologise to God”.
Back at the same court on Monday a prosecutor said there had been no further incidents reported to police.
Francis Rafferty reminded Judge King he had previously admonished McConnell to see if he could “hold his tongue”, certainly in the Coleraine area, and he had managed to do that.
Judge King told the defendant on Monday he had previously been told to avoid any public order offending especially in relation to street preaching but that if he abused his right to free speech the court could have imposed an Anti-Social Behaviour Order banning him from Coleraine town centre on Saturdays.
As there had been no further reports from police the judge fined the defendant £300 and said the 18 months conditional discharge meant that should there be any public order offending in that period the matter would be re-opened.