Somerset

Gay men 'told they would burn in hell by preacher'

Two gay men were told they were "sinners" who would "burn in hell" by a Christian street preacher in Taunton, a court has heard.

Michael Overd, 47, from Creech St Michael, is accused of verbally abusing Craig Manning and Craig Nichol last July in the town's high street.

Mr Overd denies two charges of using threatening words or behaviour.

His defence told Taunton Magistrates' Court his client was merely reciting a passage from the Bible.

'Embarrassed and ashamed'

Paul Diamond, the lawyer representing Mr Overd, told the court he was reciting from 1 Corinthians, which reads: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

He said his client was allowed to use freedom of expression to read from the Bible.

The court also heard it was the second time the pair had been targeted, after an occasion when Mr Overd saw them holding hands in October 2010.

Giving evidence, Mr Nichols said: "He said 'I have already told these two sinners over here that they are going to burn in hell'.

"He looked at us and pointed at us when he said it. His voice was quite loud and very clear.

"I felt angry, embarrassed and ashamed. It was a really busy day and I felt that everyone was looking at us when he was saying these things to us.

"I asked him who he was to judge me and he said 'It's God's words, it is in the Bible'. He said I should repent and ask God for forgiveness."

'Dear men'

Mr Diamond accused the pair of abusing Mr Overd and threatening him with violence, which they both denied.

Mr Overd, a self-taught non-denominational preacher, who has no theological qualifications, admitted speaking to the pair as part of his sermon as they passed him.

But he told the court he said: "Even these two dear men whom I have met before, caught in the sin of homosexuality, can have the forgiveness of the sin should they so repent."

He said: "I was not trying to draw to the public the fact that they were homosexuals, I was drawing the public to the fact that they were sinners.

"If I heard someone preaching the things I am accused of preaching I would talk to them about it."

'Making it up'

Prosecutor Gordon Richings asked him: "You believe that sinners who die and are not redeemed are going to end up in hell?"

Mr Overd replied: "If God says it (in the Bible) that is good enough for me."

Mr Richings said: "I'm suggesting that your emotions got carried away and you said they were going to burn in hell."

Mr Overd replied: "That is a lie, they are making it up."

Mr Richings continued: "Even though what they are saying you said is what you actually believe?"

Mr Overd replied: "Yes."

The trial was adjourned until Friday.

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