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Christian hoteliers cleared in Muslim woman abuse row
A Christian couple accused of insulting a Muslim woman at their Liverpool B+B hotel have been found not guilty of racially aggravated harassment.
Devout Christians Ben Vogelenzang, 53, and his wife Sharon, 54, were cleared after a two-day trial at Liverpool Magistrates Court.
They had been charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress, under the Public Order Act 1986.
Liverpool Magistrates Court heard allegations that the couple's behaviour was threatening, intimidating, and abusive towards the pensioner during a row in a dining room.
Defence counsel, Mr Hugh Tomlinson QC, challenged Ms Tazi had dismissed her allegations against the hotelier and his wife as "grossly exaggerated".
District Judge Richard Clancy found the couple not guilty saying that the evidence was not conclusive and cited the couple's right to freedom of expression under the European Human Rights Act.
He also criticised Mrs Tazi and referred to evidence that she had made crass remarks during a row and had said "Do you want me to walk round with my tits out and arse on show?"
Mrs Tazi, a married woman from Warrington, Cheshire, converted to Islam in June 2008 but until the last day of her stay at the hotel, had not worn the Hajib.
The writers at Click Liverpool seem to be getting their hijabs and hajj pilgrimage mixed up here, but they are reporting this with more detail than the BBC so good on them.
The BBC did report some of the evidence given earlier today.
A devout Christian hotelier has told a court that a guest he allegedly insulted over her Muslim faith is trying to ruin his business.
Benjamin Vogelenzang, 53, scolded Ericka Tazi from the witness box at Liverpool Magistrates' Court.
His wife Sharon, 54, also told the court that takings were down by 80% at the Bounty House Hotel, Aintree.
The court previously heard allegations the 60-year-old was asked if she was a "terrorist and a murderer" because she was wearing Islamic dress.
But the couple have claimed that Mrs Tazi, a white British Muslim convert, told them that Jesus was a "minor prophet" and that the Bible was untrue.
Mr Vogelenzang told prosecutor Anya Horwood in cross examination: "At the time I was persuaded she (Ericka) was quite a nice person.
"I was mistaken, you know why? She wasn't a nice person, she wasn't a loving person, she ratted to the police and is trying to make us lose our business."
Upon hearing his comments, District Judge Richard Clancy told him: "Behave yourself please."
When Mr Vogelenzang returned to the dock to sit alongside his wife he bowed his head and began to cry.
Mr Vogelenzang told his defence counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, that, on the morning of 20 March he overheard Mrs Tazi talking to his wife.
He said: "Her wording was, in essence, 'I've tried all the religions, I've tried Jesus, it didn't work for me but the Bible is untrue anyway and Jesus is a minor prophet'.
"She called Our Lord a minor prophet. My reaction was 'You haven't prayed alone and asked God to prove himself to you'.
Mr Vogelenzang said: "She took the examples of history and she started provoking me by saying 'Oh, will you tell me then that I'm a murderer, that I'm a Nazi? You're telling me I'm a terrorist?' I never meant it this way."
He denied shouting or referring to the Prophet Muhammad as a warlord, and claimed Mrs Tazi left the hotel "as cool as a cucumber".
The main business of the hotel was referals from the local hospital, from whose list of approved hotels they were removed when these allegations were made. Their aquittal, while excellent news, does not mean that they will necessarily be restored to that list. Tazi may still succeed in her vindictive ploy.
Update - The Times has still more detail.
Hugh Tomlinson, QC, the couple’s counsel, suggested that Mrs Tazi was no “shrinking violet” and that she had also become angry during the exchange.
It could not be objectionable under the laws of England for a person to believe that women in Islam are oppressed, he said. Even if it was said that Muhammad was a warlord, this also could not be deemed offensive.
Freedom to be inoffensive was not a freedom worth having, he said.
He said: “The fact that someone is upset or offended is not a reason for criminalising the speech used by the other person.”
Dismissing the case, Mr Clancy questioned Mrs Tazi’s version of events, which amounted to “fairly big differences as to what happened”.
Mr Clancy also referred to her conversation with an ambulance driver in which she said: “They were taking the p*** out of me.” He said: “It does not quite form the same religious view that was put to me on the stand.”
Outside the court Nicky Inskip, senior crown Prosecutor, defended the Crown Prosecution Service decision to bring the case under the banner of hate crime.
She said: “We were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction that a religiously aggravated offence should be charged. In considering the public interest factors in favour of a prosecution, we took into account the impact that the incident had on the victim.”
There has so far been little evidence that Mrs Tazi’s experience has echoed within the wider Muslim communities, especially across the northern conurbations. But a group of young female Muslim students, who attended the trial, said this may now only be a matter of time.
One 18-year-old medical student at Liverpool University, who asked not to be named, said: “People are shocked and angry. This decision is going to make them even more upset. Mrs Tazi just comes down for breakfast wearing a head scarf and they start racially abusing her. They have just dismissed it as if it is nothing.”