Christian street preacher prosecuted for 'misgendering' to appeal conviction

Dave McConnell(Photo: The Christian Legal Centre)

The first street preacher in the UK to be prosecuted and reported to the government's counter-terrorism scheme for alleged 'misgendering' is returning to court on Thursday and Friday to appeal his conviction. 

Dave McConnell, 42, from Wakefield, was arrested under section 4A Public Order Act 1986 and convicted last August of 'offending' a member of the public in Leeds City Centre on 8 June 2021.

He was also ordered to pay £620 in costs and do 80 hours of community service, and was reported to Prevent despite the use of preferred pronouns not being enshrined in UK law. 

At his sentencing last year, Elizabeth Wright, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: "People have the right to hold opinions and express their views. But when words cross the line between a legitimate expression of religious views, and become distressing and threatening, the CPS will prosecute offenders if our legal test is met."

Mr McConnell is being supported in his appeal at Leeds Crown Court this week by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC). 

According to the CLC, he was arrested after an exchange with a biologically male member of the public who identified as a trans woman. 

When Mr McConnell was asked whether God accepts the LGBT community, he said, "No, God hates sin."

He then addressed the crowd and told them that "this gentleman" had asked a question, prompting some bystanders to inform him that the individual was "a woman". 

According to CLC, Mr McConnell continued preaching but was verbally abused, assaulted and had some of his possessions stolen as the exchange became increasingly heated.

Mr McConnell's lawyers will argue that the actions of the police were unlawful, disproportionate and interfered with his Article 9 and 10 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Expert evidence from Sex Matters campaigner Maya Forstater and Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, will be presented at the hearings. 

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Mr McConnell said his experience had been "Orwellian and really alarming". 

"When I was told I had been reported to counter-terrorism I just thought: 'What has happened to this country?'" he said. 

"How I have been treated has been totally unreasonable and should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech in this country." 

Despite his experience, Mr McConnell said he was committed to preaching the truth "without compromise". 

"I want to clear my name and for Christians to be able to preach the gospel in Leeds without fear," he said. 

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams called the treatment of Mr McConnell "deeply illiberal" and said that the police were failing to be impartial.

"What state are we in as a society when police fail to protect a street preacher who is assaulted, abused, and has his belongings stolen simply for stating biological reality?" she said. 

"This case represents a disturbing trend in our society which is seeing members of the public and professionals being prosecuted and reported as potential terrorists for refusing to celebrate and approve LGBTQ ideology."

She added, "The Bible teaches clearly that we are born male and female. This belief and the freedom to express it in public without fear of being arrested or reported as a terrorist to Prevent must be protected."