This is a press release from Rainbow Hamlets
“Even the magistrate expressed the view that this was intended to offend and distress people, but somehow neither British Transport Police nor the CPS came to the same conclusion when charging him. We have little confidence in the way the investigation was conducted.” Said Co-Chairs, Jack Gilbert and Rebecca Shaw.
During February and March, Islamist “gay free zone” stickers were posted in more than 30 locations across the borough. It has been our position throughout that these stickers were threatening, abusive or insulting and represented at the very least a concerted campaign to foment community tension and, at the worst, an incitement to hatred.
In May, Mohammed Hasnath was charged with the offence of displaying a threatening, abusive or distressing sign under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. He was identifed from CCTV evidence showing him posting the stickers at Bow Church DLR station. Today at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court he was fined £100 and ordered to pay £85 and a £15 “victim surcharge”. At his hearing he told the court how he had been given the stickers by other people and had put them up and handed them to other people to do so.
Since February we have met with the Metropolitan Police, the British Transport Police (BTP), and the CPS to raise community concerns. At our request the CPS reviewed the case to satisfy themselves that the charge was appropriate and we learned from them yesterday that they had decided not to substitute a more serious offence. In doing so they have clearly concluded that they lacked the evidence to satisfy the courts that Mr Hasnath intended to cause alarm or distress.
BTP, who held the video evidence, were responsible for the investigation and charging of Mr Hasnath. To substantiate a more serious charge under Section 4A of the Public Order Act, BTP needed to establish whether he intended to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress by displaying the material. Police personnel informally told us that if the material had targeted a different group, for which precedents exist, it would have been treated differently.
Even if he had been charged under Section 4A, as this material was directed at gay people, the offence would still have been treated as a low level Magistrate’s Court offence, rather than a serious Crown Court matter as would have been the case for racist or anti-faith material. The current law simply does not provide for aggravated homophobic offences under Section 4A, but it does so on the basis of race and faith.
The outcome of today’s proceedings raise three important issues. Firstly there must be concerns about the adequacy of the BTP investigation. We find it difficult to believe that anyone could accept at face value the notion that Mr Hasnath put these stickers up without intending to cause distress. We had previously pointed out to BTP and to the CPS that a Facebook page for one Mohammed Hasnath contains links to Khalid Yasin who has been described in court proceedings elsewhere in the UK as a Jihadi recruiter. In passing sentence it is clear that District Judge Coleman took a similar view, stating:
“I think you used these stickers deliberately to offend and distress people, you certainly succeeded in doing that.
“You have upset people and they deserve an apology, you are not entitled to behave in this way.”
Secondly we feel that decisions relating to the prosecution of this case have been taken in isolation by people without any real understanding of the issues involved. We explained in some detail in meetings and in Victim Impact Statements read today in court how LGBT people had told us that the stickers carried with them a threat of violence against them as LGBT people. While we welcomed the opportunity to discuss those concerns with the CPS, it seems to us that our representations have not been taken on board.
Thirdly, Mr Hasnath was not the only person involved in these offences. However existing hate crime legislation does not allow the criminal justice system to take that view when sentencing an individual for the role they played in such cases. This case calls into question whether existing hate crime legislation is actually fit for purpose.
Rainbow Hamlets will be writing to Government ministers, police advisory groups and to the Mayors of London and Tower Hamlets to express our concerns and to explore ways in which we can prevent this from happening again.