Extraordinary scenes as ‘Preacher’ makes court appearance

Graffiti on Wellington Street Church
Graffiti on Wellington Street Church

There were extraordinary scenes inside and outside Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday when a defendant “preached” in the court grounds for ten minutes and then shouted several remarks about God when he entered the courtroom.

Joey McAuley (48), whose address was given as no fixed abode, Ballymena, appeared at the court charged with disorderly behaviour on November 28 in the town - the same day as an incident which saw a man paint graffiti on a former church which is undergoing demolition.

McAuley was charged with disorderly behaviour on November 28 at Wellington Street, Ballymena.

McAuley had previously been released on bail on the charge and when he arrived at the courthouse on Thursday morning, eye-witnesses said he stood inside the court grounds outside the court doors and “preached loudly for about ten minutes”.

When his case was called he created havoc when he entered the courtroom by shouting loudly whilst clapping his hands, punctuated by raising his fist in the air and at one stage he took off his coat.

McAuley continued to shout in the packed courtroom which included District Judge Peter King, prosecutors, defence lawyers, police, other officials and members of the public and said: “No justice in here brothers and sisters”.

His case was unable to go ahead as he was taken to the cells after continuing to shout and ignoring the judge’s pleas to calm down.

Other remarks shouted by McAuley included: “Thank you Lord”; “Glory Lord”; and whilst in the dock he proclaimed: “Hallelujah” before he added: “You will be judged” and “Repent”.

He continued to shout and sing loudly from the cells, which are below the courtroom, for around an hour and the noise from the defendant was constant.

The noise could be heard in the courtroom throughout but it was not loud enough to disrupt proceedings.

Later, when the case was returned to, the judge said McAuley should remain in the cells.

Judge King told prison staff: “Don’t bring him up, clearly he is in no fit state.”

A prosecutor told the court McAuley had been granted bail on the disorderly behaviour charge to reside at an address in Lurgan which she added “doesn’t exist.”

McAuley was not legally represented and no details were given to the court surrounding his original disorderly behaviour charge.

Judge King said he was not going to deal with McAuley for the “contempt” of court matters but said he was revoking bail because of the address issue.

McAuley was remanded in custody to appear back at the court via video link next week and eye-witnesses said as he was being led into a prison van he was still shouting “religious remarks”.

Last week, police confirmed they spoke to a man after four foot high graffiti was painted on a former church which has been sold and is currently being demolished in Ballymena.

The letters, in red paint, saying ‘Bless This Place Lord’ stretched for some 60ft across the front of the former Wellington Street Presbyterian Church.

Eye-witnesses said a man, believed to be in his 40s, went into the grounds and started painting on the main wall of the building either side of the front door.

Smaller bits of graffiti were written in black ink saying ‘Bless this place Jesus my Lord Amen’ and a piece of Biblical scripture was also written on a white board and left on a windowsill.

The church had been at Wellington Street for 180 years but closed in 2009 and a new church - Wellington Presbyterian Church - was opened around two miles away on the outskirts of the town at Sourhill Road.

A Presbyterian Church spokeswoman confirmed the Wellington Street site was “sold about two months ago in a private sale”.

She added: “As a result we have no comment to make regarding the graffiti incident.”

One eye-witness said: “A man was walking about with a paint tin daubing the letters and appeared to be ‘preaching’ at the same time. The letters are huge and it took him quite a while to do it.

“It was a very bizarre incident and we can only assume the man was unhappy that the site is not going to be used as a church anymore and re-development work has started.”

A PSNI spokesman confirmed last week they received a report of graffiti being painted on the former church.

He said officers spoke to a suspect and were told the people in charge of the building did not want to make a complaint as the building was “being knocked down anyhow”.

Added the spokesman: “We received a report that somebody was painting four foot letters saying ‘Bless this place Lord’. Large letters were painted on the church but the man who owns the building did not wish to make a complaint.”

A man was arrested later in the day after complaints about him allegedly being disorderly nearby.