Northern Ireland

Pastor James McConnell: Date set for trial over 'satanic Islam' broadcast

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Media captionPastor James McConnell faces charges relating to an internet broadcast of sermon he gave last year

A date has been set for the trial of an evangelical preacher accused of making grossly offensive remarks about Islam.

Pastor James McConnell faces charges relating to a sermon he gave in a Belfast church last year in which he called the religion "satanic" and heathen".

He will stand trial for three days starting on 14 December.

One of the witnesses called to give evidence could be the BBC Northern Ireland presenter Stephen Nolan.

Pastor McConnell, of Shore Road in Newtownabbey, County Antrim, is charged with 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.

His remarks about Islam were made at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast in May 2014 and were streamed online.

Substantive

Hundreds of people arrived at Belfast Magistrates' Court on Thursday morning to support the 78-year-old.

The BBC has questioned what relevance Mr Nolan has to the case, but the court is considering issuing a witness summons before the trial begins.

A judge gave the defence team seven days to produce a written application outlining what evidence they believe Mr Nolan could provide.

Image caption Hundreds of supporters joined Pastor McConnell for his appearance at Belfast Magistrates' Court

A defence solicitor said they were also considering lodging an abuse of process application.

Criticising the Public Prosecution Service, he said his first "substantive" communication with prosecutors in a month was 45 minutes before Thursday's hearing was due to begin.

"The prosecution have adopted the tactic of the silo. We have been kept in the dark," he said.

Freedom

But a prosecutor told the court there not been any undue delays in the case and the decision to proceed was made after a rigorous investigation that included lengthy consultations.

Outside the court, Pastor McConnell addressed a crowd of applauding and cheering supporters.

"As far as I am concerned, the Muslim issue is over," he said.

"The issue is the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, the freedom of worship and the freedom of preaching the gospel and saying what is in your heart.

"I hope I get my Christmas dinner. I will be there on December 14, 15 and 16.

"I am not running away, definitely not. I am going to take my stand for the Lord."

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