Judge clears Christian couple in row over Islam comments

|PIC1|Christian hotel owners Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang have been found not guilty of a religiously aggravated public order offence.

Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang had been accused by a Muslim guest at their hotel of making offensive comments about Islam but District Judge Richard Clancy ruled on Wednesday that the evidence against them was “inconsistent”.

Speaking outside the court after yesterday’s hearing, Mrs Vogelenzang said: “We have been found innocent of any crime.

“It has been a very difficult nine months and we are looking forward to rebuilding our business and getting on with our lives.”

Ericka Tazi had brought the charges against the Vogelenzangs after staying at the Bounty House Hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, in March. She alleged in court that the couple had verbally abused her for an hour, during which time they called the prophet Muhammad a warlord and branded her a terrorist.

The couple denied using threatening, abusive or insulting language that was religiously aggravated. They admitted questioning some of Mrs Tazi’s beliefs but said she had told them Jesus was a minor prophet and had questioned the authenticity of the Bible.

The case was dismissed by Judge Clancy at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday afternoon. He rejected Mrs Tazi’s version of events, saying there were “fairly big differences as to what happened”.

“I’m not satisfied on the facts that this case has been made out,” he said.

If they had been found guilty, the couple would have faced a £5,000 fine and criminal record. They say the case has already led to an 80 per cent drop in income after a nearby hospital stopped referring patients to the hotel because of the case.

Their legal defence was funded by the Christian Institute. Hugh Tomlinson QC, who represented the Vogelenzangs in court, said: “The fact that someone is upset or offended is not a reason for criminalising the speech used by the other person.”

Mrs Vogelenzang said: “We would like to thank all those who have supported us over the last nine months – our family, our friends, our church, and Christians from all around the world and non-Christians.

“And as Christmas approaches we wish everybody peace and goodwill.”