First street preacher arrested and reported to counter-terrorism for ‘misgendering’ to appeal conviction7 March 2023 Issued by: Christian Concern
A Christian lettings agent who became the first street preacher to be prosecuted and reported to counter-terrorism for alleged ‘misgendering’, is set to appeal his conviction this week at Leeds Crown Court.
Dave McConnell, 42, from Wakefield, was reported by the Probation Service to the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, Prevent, after he was arrested under section 4A Public Order Act 1986 and convicted for ‘offending’ a member of the public in Leeds City Centre on 8 June 2021.
Mr McConnell was convicted, made to pay costs of £620, forced to do 80 hours of community service and reported to Prevent despite there being no legal obligation to use anyone’s preferred pronouns in the UK.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr McConnell’s case represents a growing disturbing trend of professionals and members of the public losing their jobs or being prosecuted by the police for ‘misgendering.’
The case also brings into question the increasing politicisation of the UK police force. For example, the Elland Road police station where Mr McConnell was taken after his arrest flies the LGBT Pride flag at the front of the building.
A born-again Christian, Mr McConnell has been street preaching across Northern England for 15 years and has a powerful human interest testimony.
The aim for his street preaching is to share the Bible’s message that we have all sinned by disobeying God’s laws. He preaches that the Gospel is good news and that by believing in Jesus Christ, we receive forgiveness of all our sins, and can have an assurance of eternity in heaven. He believes the foundational Christian belief from Genesis 1: 27 that we are born male and female.
Mr McConnell is shocked by his treatment and determined to fight for justice after he was ultimately arrested for referring to a biological male who presented as a female and whom he addressed as ‘he’. The arrest was made after he ‘misgendered’ the individual during a one-on-one conversation with a police officer covered in pagan tattoos.
He says being reported to Prevent was ‘shocking’ and that his case should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech in the UK.
Mr McConnell’s appeal, which is taking place at Leeds Crown Court on March 9 and 10, is backed by expert evidence from Sex Matters campaigner, Maya Forstater, and Toby Young, General Secretary for the Free Speech Union.
Lawyers will seek to overturn his previous conviction in August 2022 by arguing that the police response was unlawful, disproportionate and interfered with his Article 9 and 10 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
While preaching on 8 June 2021 in Briggate, Leeds, a pedestrianised area of the city, Mr McConnell was asked, while speaking about a range of topics, by a biological male that self-identified as a ‘trans woman’ whether God accepted the LGBT community.
Responding to the question, Mr McConnell, who encourages members of the public to ask him questions while preaching, said: “No, God hates sin. So, this Gentleman asked a question…”
Members of the crowd screamed at him: “She’s a woman!”
Mr McConnell replied: “No, this is a man”, to which a female member of the crowd shouted: “She’s just as much a woman as me!”
Continuing to calmly preach about what the Bible says about sexual sin and homosexuality, Mr McConnell referred to the individual as ‘this gentleman’ and a ‘man in women’s clothes.’
Video footage revealed Mr McConnell continuing to preach during the afternoon and was repeatedly verbally abused by members of the public, assaulted, and at one point had possessions stolen, including an amplifier.
Members of the crowd, which included a part-time drag queen, had grown to over 100 and chanted ‘Hate speech, Hate Speech’ when the police arrived on the scene.
Video footage revealed members of the crowd shouting at the police: “You’ve got a baton, slap him around the f***ing arse and take him.”
They also called Mr McConnell, and another street preacher standing alongside him, a ‘Stupid C***’ a “dirty little scumbag” and said “just imagine if I pushed him off there [step ladders].’
The crowd also shouted at the preachers to: “Turn that cross upside down and shove it up you’re f***ing arse.”
Rather than controlling the crowd, a police officer with pentagram tattoos started collating evidence on how Mr McConnell had allegedly ‘misgendered’ the ‘trans woman’.
The officer began a one-on-one conversation with Mr McConnell where he suggested that they would not arrest him, but would invite him for an interview at the police station at a later date.
Asked what the allegations were against Mr McConnell, the officer said: “Homophobic hate crime. Officers say that there are a lot of members of the crowd who are ‘harassed, alarmed and distressed’.
The officer was referring to Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which is often weaponised by members of the public to compel the police to take action against anyone who is ‘offending’ them or who they feel is causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress.’
Mr McConnell said: “I know I have not violated any law” and added that “the person who came up was a man in women’s clothes.”
Following this comment, the officer aggressively stepped towards Mr McConnell and said: “Listen mate, I’m not having that, because she’s told you she’s a woman.”
Under pressure, McConnell then said: “She asked me, he asked me what do I think…”, but the officer cut him off, took out handcuffs and said: “Ok, you’re under arrest”. The officer said he was being arrested ‘Contrary to Section 4A(1) and (5) of the Public Order Act 1986’, and to ‘prevent further harm to others.’
With the crowd cheering, Mr McConnell was then led away to a police van. Held in custody for 14 hours, he was charged and then released.
At the Magistrates Court, he was convicted by the local district judge and was sentenced at a hearing in August 2022 to a 12-month community order, involving humiliating community service with 80 hours unpaid work, and fined.
Commenting on the case, 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.’
Report to counter-terrorism
Following his conviction, and prior to the sentencing hearing, the Probation Service ‘routinely’ reported Mr McConnell to counter-terrorism.
The probation officer’s report said that it was clear that Mr McConnell’s Christian faith had positively impacted his life and helped him become a ‘hard working family man.’ It continued that: “I am satisfied there is no sinister or deliberately offensive objective to Mr McConnell’s activities.”
Yet the report concluded saying:
“As with any adjournment where the individual is viewed to be persistently and illegally espousing an extreme point of view, I have routinely liaised with my colleagues in the Joint Counter Terrorism Team. They have no further information on Mr McConnell that would suggest their intervention would be likely or helpful.”
Appealing the conviction on 9-10 March at Leeds Crown Court, Mr McConnell will be backed in his case by Sex Matters Executive Director, Maya Forstater, and General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young.
It is anticipated that Mr Young will provide evidence on controversies surrounding ‘speech codes’ and the subjective nature of ‘psychological harm’. He will present how the battle for free speech has increasingly been intertwined with the battle for freedom of conscience.
Ms Forstater, who won a landmark legal case over the freedom to say that individuals cannot change their biological sex is anticipated to bring evidence on how being able to think in and use ordinary words is essential to freedom of thought and freedom of expression.
She will provide evidence on how the words man, woman, male, female, and associated pronouns, are ordinary words for the two sexes. Sex is a characteristic which is immutable and readily perceivable by others and she will say how it does not change through self-identification.
‘I was alarmed’
Ahead of the hearing, Mr McConnell said: “What has happened to me has 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?’
“How I have been treated has been totally unreasonable and should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech in this country.
“Jesus told Christians to expect persecution, however, and I am determined to continue my ministry as while there is always opposition, I also see many people positively impacted.
“Jesus changed my life as a young man, and I am passionate about engaging people with the hope that made such a difference to me.
“My role as a Christian preacher is to speak truth and to communicate what the Bible says on a range of issues without compromise.
“I believe what the Bible says about how we are born male and female. I am not aware of any law that says I must use someone’s preferred identity that is clearly contrary to their biological reality.
“I would also challenge anyone who is preaching to a large and mostly hostile crowd while being assaulted and abused, to get everything politically correct while confronted by someone who is gender distressed.
“The police in Leeds, however, are so quick to arrest you. They have become infected by the culture that says you must comply and submit to LGBTQI+ ideology.
“When I went to the police station and saw that they fly the LGBTQI+ flag from the building, it is very intimidating and concerning.
“I want to clear my name and for Christians to be able to preach the gospel in Leeds without fear.”
Born male and female
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre who are backing McConnell’s case, said: “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? The abuse against David McConnel didn’t stop there – he was arrested, convicted and reported to counter-terrorism.
“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. Police forces who fly pride flags from their headquarters are failing to provide Christian preachers with impartial protection. If a person cries ‘’offence’ at a street preacher’s words, it’s the street preacher that is punished and taken out. This is deeply illiberal.
“What message does this case send to not just to Christian preachers but ordinary citizens when the arresting officer was covered in satanic tattoos and took McConnell to a police station with an LGBT Pride flag flying from it?
“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.”