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.
Dave McConnell, 42, was appealing a conviction on Thursday 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 June 8, 2021.
The arrest was made after he “misgendered” someone who self-identified as transgender.
In footage from McConnell’s body-worn camera, Farrah Munir is seen approaching the preacher and asking, “Does God accept the LGBT community?”
In the video, McConnell refers to Munir as “a man” and “this gentleman.”
As the police arrive, a growing crowd chants, “Hate speech, hate speech.”
McConnell is later arrested after a policeman says, “Listen mate, I’m not having that because she’s told you she’s a woman.”
“She asked me, he asked me what do I think,” replies McConnell. At that point, the officer handcuffs him, adding, “OK, you’re under arrest.”
Joint Counter-Terrorism Team
McConnell was convicted of causing harassment, alarm, or distress to Munir at Leeds Magistrates’ Court last year and sentenced to a 12-month community order with 80 hours of unpaid work. Following his conviction and prior to the sentencing hearing, the Probation Service reported McConnell to the Joint Counter-Terrorism Team.
A legal team supported by the Christian Legal Centre sought to overturn the conviction by arguing that the police response was unlawful, disproportionate, and interfered with his rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
McConnell’s appeal was backed by evidence from Sex Matters campaigner Maya Forstater and Toby Young, general secretary for the Free Speech Union.
On Thursday, the judge in the case, Recorder Anthony Hawks, sitting with two magistrates, allowed the preacher’s appeal against his conviction.
At the start of the hearing and before cross-examination, Hawks said of the complainant, “This is a woman—we will have no more debate.”
During proceedings, the arresting officer was asked why he had arrested McConnell 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 [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.”
McConnell 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.”
“I wasn’t being transphobic—I was expressing what I believe,” he added.
Hawks said that McConnell “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 [McConnell] was using those words that he intended to cause distress,” he said.
“[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.”
The judge concluded that there was no evidence McConnell had intended to harass Munir.
Following the hearing, McConnell said he was “delighted and relieved,” adding: “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.”
He added, “How I was treated was totally unreasonable and should concern anyone who cares about Christian freedoms and free speech in this country.”
“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,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.
“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,” she added.