Jail terms follow Totterdown mosque race attack

July 29 2016

Jail terms follow Totterdown mosque race attack

Kevin CrehanMark BennettTHE four men involved in the attack on the mosque all denied that any of them had shouted racist abuse.

Kevin Crehan and Mark Bennett admitted placing the flag of St George outside the mosque, bearing the slogan “No more mosques, no more refugees”. They also admitted leaving bacon sandwiches on the doorstep, but said they didn’t throw any bacon.

Bennett said he didn’t know the meaning of a slogan on the flag, GNLS, saying he had been told to write it during a phone call on the morning of January 17.

GNLS, the court heard, stands for Good Night Left Side, and is used by far-right groups as a taunt to left-wingers.

The men had claimed they intended to give out bacon sandwiches to worshippers at the mosque, but Judge Julian Lambert said this was “ridiculous” – partly because the bacon was raw. “There were no facilities to cook it on a street in Totterdown on a cold winter’s day,” he said.

The judge found Crehan’s claim that there was no racial abuse shouted to be “utterly incredible”.

A witness from the mosque told the court at an earlier hearing that he first saw a man’s head in the mosque doorway, then the man disappeared. 

Following him outside, the witness said he met two men and a woman, who all hurled vile racist and religious abuse at him. 

However, a second witness who was driving past and stopped to remonstrate with the attackers, said he heard no abuse. 

Defence solicitors claimed that this undermined the credibility of the mosque witness. 

Judge Lambert said he had considered the point carefully, but decided that the mosque witness was “clear and compelling” and “had no motive to invent things. His demeanour was of sorrow at the things he described.”

Mark Bennett had denied any connection with a Facebook account bearing racist messages in the name of “Marc Bennet” which included the slogan “Burn your local mosque!”

But the account had a picture of Bennett and his wife on their wedding day. The overwhelming inference was that the Facebook account “was his, and only his,” said Judge Lambert.

Alison Bennett’s defence was that she was with her husband because he was meeting someone called Bunny, who she thought must be a woman.

But men are often nicknamed Bunny, said Judge Lambert. Mrs Bennett’s claim about fearing her husband was having an affair was “a fairy story”, he added.

Mrs Bennett told the court she had no idea why her husband had added bacon to their shopping that morning. But the court heard a tape of her police interview in which she said her husband had told her a day or two before that Sunday was to be “taking bacon to a mosque day, or something.” 

Crehan and Mark Bennett said the same thing was due to happen at mosques all over the country on the same day.

Mrs Bennett filmed the incident, at her husband’s request, but she quickly realised it was wrong and she got back in the car, she said. Her video later found its way onto social media.

Asked by police if she thought their presence at the mosque would cause worshippers alarm or distress, she said: “Yes, it would do. If someone did that to  me I would feel exactly the same.”

Angelina Swailes claimed she knew nothing of where Crehan, her partner, was taking her. They had no conversation in the car because they often went out for a Sunday drive, she said.

“I didn’t know it was a mosque until I saw the bacon,” she told the court. But she quickly realised she was in the wrong, she said; after taking two pictures on her phone, she deleted them without sharing them.

The judge said: “I cannot be satisfied that she personally issued any racial or religious abuses. But I reject her assertion that she didn’t know why she was being taken to the mosque.”

In his summing up, the judge said: “The mosque was a place of quiet dignity, of contemplation and of prayer.”

“Those in the mosque were simply adhering to their faith and praying in the mosque that day.

“Those at the mosque ask nothing from you other than peace and quiet for their prayer and contemplation.

“That tolerance and respect is the very cornerstone of a democratic society. Your attack was on the very foundations of society. Your attack is an attack on England and in particular on freedom of worship in our land.

“I regard your offending as extremely serious.”

He sentenced Crehan to 12 months in jail and Mark Bennett to nine months. Alison Bennett was given six months, suspended for two years, and Swailes four months suspended for two years.

Both women are subject to a curfew which means they will be electronically tagged and must stay in their homes from 7pm to 7am for six months.

All four are subject to a 10-year restraining order not to  go within 100 metres of any mosque in England and Wales, not to contact a key witness in the case in any way, and not to enter the vicinity of the Jamia mosque in an area defined on a map, which they have each been given.

 Crehan’s lawyer, John Lamb, said his client was the carer for his brother, who has motor neurone disease and lives in an adapted bungalow. As he was sentenced, Crehan’s father shouted from the public gallery, “What’s his brother going to do? He [Kevin Crehan] is his main carer.”

The judge ordered Mr Crehan to leave the court.

Kevin Crehan had to be wrestled from the dock, shouting.

Crehan has a long criminal history, mainly connected to football violence, amounting to 32 court cases and 55 offences, and has served prison sentences. In 2008 he racially abused an Asian police officer. 

Mark Bennett also has a criminal record, though not for similar offences. He has a heart condition and has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour, said his lawyer, Anthony Bignall.

Avanti Pursell, for Alison Bennett, said she was in poor health, on anti-depressants, could not work, and had suffered abuse and had her windows broken since the incident.

Swailes’ lawyer, Lee Mott, said his client realised she had done wrong and had offered to apologise to the mosque. She is jobless but is due to start a beauty therapy course in the autumn.

Neither woman had a previous criminal record.