A judge has overturned the conviction of a Christian street preacher who was arrested and reported to Prevent for ‘misgendering’ a member of the public.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dave McConnell, 42, from Wakefield, was appealing a conviction today at Leeds Crown Court after he was arrested under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 for ‘insulting’ a member of the public in Leeds City Centre on 8 June 2021.
Convicted for ‘misgendering’
The arrest was made after he ‘misgendered’ a biological male who self-identified as a ‘trans woman’ during a one-on-one conversation with a police officer who was covered in pagan tattoos and an upside-down cross.
Prior to the arrest, Dave had been assaulted, abused and had his belongings stolen while he was preaching. He was subsequently convicted at the Magistrates Court, made to pay costs of £620 and forced to do 80 hours of community service despite there being no legal obligation to use a trans person’s preferred pronouns in the UK.
Following his conviction, and prior to the sentencing hearing, the Probation Service reported Dave to the Joint Counter-Terrorism Team. The report was made despite the probation officer concluding that it was clear that Dave’s Christian faith had positively impacted his life.
It is believed Dave is the first street preacher to be convicted for such an offence and reported as a potential ‘terrorist.’
Before Recorder Anthony Hawks and two magistrates, Dave’s lawyer, Michael Phillips, today sought to overturn the conviction 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).
‘I wasn’t misgendering, I was telling the truth’
At the start of the hearing and before cross-examination, Recorder Hawks said of the complainant, who is a biological male who self-identifies as a ‘trans woman’: “This is a woman, we will have no more debate.”
During proceedings, the arresting officer was asked why he had arrested Dave after initially suggesting that he just move on. The officer said: “He wanted to argue his rights of free speech. Regardless of what he’d have preached, I think the crowd wouldn’t allow it…the final trigger was when [Mr McConnell] referred to the victim as a man in a dress. I stopped him and told him he’d been told the victim was a female.”
Dave was asked in court whether he knew that ‘misgendering’ a trans person could be insulting, to which he replied: “I wasn’t misgendering, I was telling the truth.”
He told the court: “I think people could have been offended but that’s not the intention. My intention was to simply stay faithful to my beliefs, stay faithful to God and to stay faithful to my conscience.”
He added: “I wasn’t being transphobic; I was expressing what I believe.”
Before he had finished giving evidence, the Bench retired and found that the Crown had not proved their case, the court ruled Dave had not intended to cause the complainant ‘distress’, Recorder Hawks allowed the appeal and therefore overturned the conviction.
Recorder Hawks said that Dave ‘misgendering’ the complainant did cause the complainant distress but “it is not an offence to insult someone.”
Furthermore he said that under the Public Order Act “it is not enough to show words were insulting and that [the complainant] was distressed. They must prove that we as a bench are sure that when [Mr McConnell] was using those words that he intended to cause distress.
“[Mr McConnell] said he had no such intent, he says he goes out preaching the Word of God and the last thing he wants to do is upset. He said he was not intending distress, just repeating what he genuinely believed to be the Bible’s teaching.”
He concluded saying: “We live in a time of free speech.”
‘I was telling the truth’
Following the ruling, Dave commented: “I am delighted and relieved that the Judge has overturned the conviction and that I can clear my name. I am, however, appalled at how I have been treated by the authorities in this matter. No other street preacher, professional or member of the public must go through what I have.
“‘Misgendering’ is not a crime and should never be treated as such. I do not believe I was ‘misgendering’, I believed I was telling the truth.
“How I was treated was 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.”
‘Disturbing trend in society’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who backed Dave’s case, said: “Dave McConnell has been vindicated and we are pleased that the Recorder has seen sense. No one should go through what he has for stating biological fact.
“This case has represented 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.
“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.
“Dave is a kind and caring man, who loves Jesus, and wants members of the public to know about the truth of the Christian faith which has transformed his life.”
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union and Executive Director of Sex Matters, Maya Forstater, submitted expert reports in support of Mr McConnell’s case.
A born-again Christian, Dave 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.
While preaching on 8 June 2021 in Briggate, Leeds, a pedestrianised area of the city, Dave 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, Dave, 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!” Dave 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, Dave referred to the individual as ‘this gentleman’ and a ‘man in women’s clothes.’ Video footage revealed Dave continuing to preach and 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 also 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 Dave, 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 Dave had allegedly ‘misgendered’ the ‘trans woman’.
The officer began a one-on-one conversation with Dave 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 Dave, 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.’
Dave 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 Dave and said: “Listen mate, I’m not having that, because she’s told you she’s a woman.”
Under pressure, Dave 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, Dave 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 Dave to counter-terrorism.
The probation officer’s report said that it was clear that Dave’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.”
Dave’s win follows a similar case in December 2022 involving street preacher John Dunn. After the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) put in their legal arguments that parts of the bible ‘are no longer appropriate in modern society’, the government was forced to make a statement clarifying that it was in fact ‘inappropriate’ for the CPS to make such a suggestion.
Find out more about Dave McConnell