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'Freedom of speech' victory as Christian hoteliers are CLEARED of insulting Muslim woman as judge sl


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'Freedom of speech' victory as Christian hoteliers are CLEARED of insulting Muslim woman as judge slams her evidence



By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 5:12 PM on 09th December 2009




Christian hoteliers accused of insulting a Muslim guest for wearing the hijab and berating her for her beliefs were dramatically cleared this afternoon.


Benjamin and Sharon Vogelenzang denied using threatening, abusive or insulting words which were religiously aggravated against white British Muslim convert Ericka Tazi, 60.


District Judge Richard Clancy, who heard the case in the absence of a jury, told the couple that religion and politics was the 'tinderbox which set the whole thing alight and it would appear because of strongly entrenched positions that is what has happened here'.



article-1234509-078498E7000005DC-900_468x659.jpg Sharon and Ben Vogelenzang arrive at court this morning


Explaining his reasons for dismissing the case, he said Mrs Tazi's claim that she was verbally attacked by the couple for up to an hour had not been borne out by other prosecution witnesses, who suggested that any discussions lasted around seven minutes.


Judge Clancy also highlighted Mrs Tazi's use of language. When describing how she was provoked by the couple about her hijab she used words to the effect of: 'Would you prefer it if I got my tits out?'


He said: 'I mention this because when I read that together with what she said about 'them taking the piss' it doesn't quite form the same religious view that was put to me on the stand'.


Judge Clancy said: 'I'm not satisfied on the facts that this case has been made out.'

His decision was greeted by prolonged applause from the couple's supporters in the public gallery.


Outside, Sharon Vogelenzang told reporters: 'We've 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.


'We would like to thank all those who have supported us, our family, our friends, our church and Christians all around the world, and non-Christians.


'And as Christmas approaches we wish everybody peace and goodwill.'


Mrs Tazi told the court yesterday that she was left traumatised after being insulted by the couple while a guest at The Bounty House Hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, on March 20.



She said they laughed at her when she came down wearing a hijab on her final day at the hotel and shouted at her, saying her Islamic dress was a form of bondage and that she had provoked an argument by wearing it.


Mrs Tazi, who converted to Islam when she married a Muslim 18 months ago, was staying at the hotel while she attended a pain management clinic at Aintree Hospital for her fibromyalgia.


She claimed Mr Vogelenzang called the prophet Mohammed a murderer and a warlord and likened him to Saddam Hussein and Hitler.


But the couple denied her version of events and claimed Mrs Tazi told them Jesus was a minor prophet and that the Bible was untrue.


Enlarge article-1234509-0784B232000005DC-989_233x423.jpg Ericka Tazi leaving court. Her evidence was criticised by the judge


Earlier, the court heard how the Vogelenzangs' B&B had suffered as a result of the case.


Benjamin Vogelenzang, 53, accused Mrs Tanzi of trying to ruin his business during heated scenes in court.


The hotelier raised his voice and thumped the witness box before he was told to behave by Judge Clancy.


His 54-year-old wife, Sharon, told the court that takings were down by 80 per cent since they were prosecuted for a public order offence.


Benjamin Vogelenzang told prosecutor Anya Horwood in cross examination: 'At the time I was persuaded she (Ericka) was quite a nice person.'


Raising his voice, and thumping the witness box for emphasis, he continued: '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.'


His outburst prompted Judge Clancy to tell him: 'Behave yourself please.'


When Mr Vogelenzang returned to the dock to sit alongside his wife he bowed his head and cried.


The court heard that the couple, who have five adopted children and have fostered a Muslim boy, returned to the hotel after a holiday in Scotland three days before the alleged incident on March 20.


They learned from the hotel manager that guests had engaged in robust debates about religion over the dinner table, with Mrs Tazi and a self confessed 'happy clappy Christian' taking the lead.


Mr Vogelenzang told his defence counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, that, on the morning of March 20, he spotted Mrs Tazi wearing the hijab, the traditional Islamic dress, and told her: 'You look tiny' before walking off.


He said that, when he next saw her, she was talking to his wife and told the court he overheard the following conversation: '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'.



Enlarge article-1234509-078480B9000005DC-541_468x313.jpg Sharon and Ben Vogelenzang with supporters and fellow Christians outside court before the verdict




Enlarge article-1234509-078481AD000005DC-136_468x314.jpg The Vogelenzang's supporters paid for a truck to circle the court house in Liverpool this morning


'Because she was a small person I sat next to her and just gently said that to her.'


He admitted that his wife may have referred to the hijab as a form of bondage and said Mrs Tazi replied: 'My husband doesn't even want me to wear it, but I wear it as I love Allah.'


He told the court: 'Great, that's fine. At least she wears it because of the love she has.'

Mr Vogelenzang said Mrs Tazi then went off into the dining room and he belatedly went after her to make light of the situation.


He told the court he reeled off a list of historical figures, including Caesar, Nero, Hitler, Mao and Saddam Hussein.


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 at her or referring to the prophet Mohammed as a warlord.


Mr Vogelenzang told Ms Horwood that Mrs Tazi was not in tears but left the hotel 'as cool as a cucumber' and that he had the ability 'not to take offence'.


Mrs Vogelenzang told the court that Mrs Tazi seemed determined to get a response from her about her hijab.



Enlarge article-1234509-0787E6DD000005DC-333_468x313.jpg A general view of the Bounty House Hotel run by Benjamin and Sharon Vogelenzang who were accused of insulting Muslim convert Ericka Tazi during her stay at the Hotel in Aintree, Liverpool


She said the guest approached her and said: 'You didn't know I was a Muslim, did you?''


The hotelier replied that she had known, the court heard.


Mrs Vogelenzang said Mrs Tazi then came up to her and said she 'was still the nice, kind Ericka you know'.


She said she was 'stopped in her tracks' when she heard Mrs Tazi say to her husband that, 'Jesus was a minor prophet and the Bible was not true'.


She told her: 'I'm afraid we'd have to disagree with you there. We believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins.'


Mrs Vogelenzang said Mrs Tazi told her: 'It's my choice to put this outfit on' and said she replied: 'I can't understand why you would want to put yourself into bondage.'


She explained that she used the phrase 'bondage' because she understood that Muslim women lacked the freedom to make many choices in their lives.


Mrs Vogelenzang also told Mr Tomlinson, her defence counsel, that she went into the dining room after hearing raised voices and, when Mrs Tazi spotted her, 'she charged towards me with her hand thrust up at my face and said 'Get away from me, get out of my face''.

Yesterday, Christians gathered outside Liverpool magistrates' court to support the couple.


Mrs Tazi, who suffers from the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, spent a month at the hotel earlier this year while attending a course of therapy at a nearby hospital.

The former Roman Catholic from Warrington, who converted to Islam last year, gave evidence after swearing an oath to Allah and kissing the Koran.

She wore a hijab and ankle-length gown in court similar to the outfit she was wearing on the day of the alleged confrontation.

She told the court she had worn Western clothes until the final day of her course.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1234509/Hoteliers-cleared-insulting-Muslim-guest-wearing-hijab-breakfast.html#ixzz0ZGYMVRPm

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