A Carlisle man who burnt the Koran in the city centre could be facing up to two years in jail.
Andrew Ryan, who claims to be a member of the English Defence League, appeared at Carlisle Magistrates’ Court today.
He pleaded guilty to religiously aggravated harassment and theft – of the Koran from Carlisle Library.
The court heard he had burnt the Koran on January 19 because for the Muslims, the book is their ‘Holiest of Holy.’
He said he had been viewing internet clips of extremist Islamic preachers and protesters earlier in the day then ‘lost it’.
Ryan, 32, of Summerhill, went to the library and booked out a copy of the Koran using a card he had only applied for the day before.
He then went to the monument on English Street and in front of shocked witnesses started shouting abuse about the Muslim faith.
One of them was his former probation officer.
Ryan managed to set fire to the book on his second attempt, after a friend passed him a lighter, then threw it on the ground and walked away.
After arrest he told police that he knew his actions were likely to stir up religious aggravation.
He also spoke of ‘Asian gangs’ and his anger at Islam.
Ryan has a number of previous convictions for public order offences and assault.
Defence solicitor Lauren Heesley said he was protesting against Muslim extremists not Islam as a faith.
She told the court that he did not judge people by their race, religion or sexual orientation.
Ms Heesley claimed that his conviction for racially abusive chanting at a football match had been a misunderstanding.
She said he had been shouting abuse at the referee, as ‘the man in black’, rather than a player.
At this point Ryan started sniggering and his supporters in the public gallery openly laughed.
Ms Heesley said Ryan has a military background which he is proud of, so images of extremist Muslim protesters burning poppies had made him want to take revenge.
The case was adjourned until April 14 for pre-sentencing reports and Ryan was granted bail.
Magistrates did not discuss what punishment they were considering imposing but the offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
As he left the courtroom, Ryan punched the air and said ‘no surrender’ to cheers from his supporters.