This message, which has circulated for several years, protests against apparent inconsistencies regarding sentences handed down for religious or racially motivated vandalism offences.
The protest message cites three separate cases; Firstly, the case of Muslim man Tohseef Shah, who spray painted a war memorial with the slogan “Islam will dominate osama is coming” and walked free with just a fine. Secondly, the case of another Muslim, Emdadur Choudhury, who burned a poppy during the Remembrance Day Two Minutes Silence and also received only a fine. And thirdly, the case of two men who spray painted a poppy onto a Mosque but, rather than just a fine, received 12 months in prison. The message condemns the apparent disparity between these sentences and expresses disgust at the British justice system.
The cases described are real. (Tohseef Shah received a two-year conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £500 compensation to the council along with £85 costs. He did not receive only a £50 fine as claimed in the above message).
The cases caused considerable controversy and outrage in the UK with many people of the opinion that the sentences handed out to the Muslim men were too lenient while those given to the non-Muslims who painted the poppy on the Mosque were overly harsh in comparison.
Given the information outlined in the message, it is understandable that many feel irate about the outcome of these cases. However, there is more to the story that should be told.
Steven James Vasey and Anthony Donald Smith, the two men sentenced to 12 months prison, did more than just spray poppies and political messages on the mosque. They also defaced a nearby store and guest house, both of which were owned by Asian businessmen. And an upstairs window on the store was smashed with a brick. Ironically, the store was reportedly selling Remembrance Day poppies at the time of the attack. Other evidence showed that the men had planned the attack beforehand.
Thus, the attack was considered to be racially motivated. The men admitted conspiracy to commit racially aggravated criminal damage and were sentenced accordingly. But, apparently, a lack of evidence and vagaries of the law meant that Tohseef Shah was not charged with committing a religious or racially motivated crime. It was instead decided that the man’s actions were politically (as opposed to religiously) motivated and he was thus convicted of just criminal damage. Poppy burner, Emdadur Choudhur, was only charged with a public order offence although the judge who presided over the case has been castigated in the press for not handing down a stiffer penalty.
But, it could also be argued that the above protest message effectively cherry picks available cases as a means of creating the most impact. For example, if the message had compared the Shah and Choudhury cases with another case in which Sunderland man Ryan Austin sprayed racist grafitti on a Mosque, its power would have been considerably curtailed. As with Shah and Choudhur, Austin was not sent to prison. He received only a fine for his crime.
And in two other cases in which pig heads were placed near the site of a proposed mosque – actions that could also be construed as religiously or racially motivated – those responsible again received fines and community service rather than a term in prison. And, at the time of writing, three teens had just been charged with incitement to hatred for allegedly burning a poppyand posting an image of the burning on Facebook.
Given the complexity of the legal system and the unique set of characteristics that define each and every case, drawing conclusions based on comparisons of sentences can be problematical.