Christian street preacher found guilty of harassing transgender woman has conviction quashed

David McConnell repeatedly referred to Farrah Munir as a “man” and a “gentleman” as he addressed a crowd in Leeds

Dave Higgins
Thursday 09 March 2023 17:29 GMT
David McConnell had his conviction overturned at Leeds Crown Court
David McConnell had his conviction overturned at Leeds Crown Court (Yorkshire Live/MEN Media)

An evangelical Christian preacher who was found guilty of harassing a transgender woman by repeatedly referring to her as a “man” and a “gentleman” as he addressed the public has had his conviction quashed.

Farrah Munir, 19, told Leeds Crown Court on Thursday how she was left “emotionally distraught” by David McConnell as he preached on Briggate, in the centre of Leeds, on June 8, 2021.

McConnell, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, was convicted of causing harassment, alarm or distress to Ms Munir at Leeds Magistrates’ Court last year and sentenced to a 12-month community order with 80 hours unpaid work.

On Thursday, Recorder Anthony Hawks, sitting with two magistrates, allowed the preacher’s appeal against conviction.

Mr Hawks said although they accepted McConnell’s words had been insulting and that Ms Munir had suffered “harassment, alarm and distress”, there was no evidence the appellant had intended to harass her.

Earlier, the court was shown video footage from McConnell’s body-worn camera of Ms Munir approaching him as he spoke to a small crowd and asking him: “Does God accept the LBGT community?”

As the 42-year-old preacher responds to the crowd, he repeatedly refers to her, saying “this is a man” and “this gentleman”.

He also says she is a “man dressed in woman’s clothes”.

The court heard that McConnell referred to Ms Munir as a man four times and a gentleman five times.

In the video, McConnell can also be heard to say: “Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God” and “the Bible says that lesbianism is an unnatural and vile passion”.

Asked how she felt about this, Ms Munir told the appeal hearing: “Upset. Emotionally distraught, as this had never happened to me before.”

In the witness box, McConnell said: “In my view, I wasn’t misgendering and I was gendering correctly.”

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 said: “I wasn’t being transphobic; I was expressing what I believe.”

Shown the video footage again, McConnell said: “I knew the person in front of me was a biological male and, therefore, I stayed true to God and true to my beliefs.”

McConnell told the judge that he had been street preaching about once a week for around 15 years.

Recorder Hawks said: “We cannot be sure as a bench that, looking at all the evidence, that the appellant, at that relevant time, intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress.”

The judge added: “We live in a time when free speech is important and vital.

“And we live in a time when people’s attitude towards gender are very different from how they were years ago.

“All these issues need to be properly respected, so I make no criticism whatsoever of the Crown bringing a prosecution in this case.”

Recorder Hawks said: “We are not here to opine on transgender issues.

“We are not here to opine on whether or not the appellant’s views on the Bible are correct or misplaced.”

The judge addressed accusations that the arrest of McConnell had been unlawful, saying his view was that it was not and the officer involved had acted properly in the circumstances.

Earlier in the appeal hearing, the judge interrupted defence barrister Michael Phillips when he tried to ask Ms Munir whether she thought sex and gender were the same thing.

He told Mr Phillips: “I’m not having this hearing turned into a three-ring-circus exploring transgender issues.

“That’s not what this case is about.

“This witness is a transgender woman. She identifies herself as such.

“She says she was insulted by being called a man.

“That’s the evidence. What we make of it, and what we make of the defendant’s intentions, is another matter.”

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