ONE OF the men who admits a racially aggravated attack on Totterdown’s mosque has claimed in court that he didn’t know that bacon was offensive to Muslims.
Mark Bennett, 48, claimed he was not a racist and did not take bacon to the mosque in Green Street on January 17, 2016, intending to cause offence.
Instead, he said, he was trying to raise awareness about the plight of British armed forces veterans and homeless people who he felt deserved more attention.
Bennett, of Spruce Way, Patchway, his wife Alison Bennett, 46, Kevin Crehan, 34, of Springleaze, Knowle, and Angelina Margaret Swales, 31, of West Town Avenue, Brislington, have all pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence at the Jamia mosque.
Bristol crown court was told on June 17 that during the incident racial abuse was shouted at a Muslim man attending the mosque. Raw bacon was thrown and left hanging from the mosque’s railings and an English flag, the cross of St George, was left on the steps with the legend “No mosques, no refugees”, the prosecution said.
But the two men involved denied being racists, said there was no bacon thrown, and they did not hear any racial abuse. They claimed their protest was peaceful. Crehan said it was an attempt to get Muslims to “integrate”. “I grew up in Totterdown and I have got many, many Muslim friends,” he said.
Bennett drew a parallel with charitable activities.
“In my own time I go to the city centre and take coffee and bacon sandwiches to people who live on the streets,” he said.
Judge Julian Lambert asked Bennett if he expected people at the mosque to eat his bacon sandwiches and be grateful for them.
“Possibly,” Bennett replied. The court had heard that Bennett and his wife had bought the bacon and some bread in a £1 shop in Broadmead the same morning. The barrister for the prosecution, Ian Fenney, asked Bennett: “Did you expect people to eat raw bacon?”
“No,” said Bennett. “Where was the bacon going to be cooked?” asked Mr Fenney.
“It possibly could have been cooked in the mosque. I wouldn’t know, would I?” said Bennett.
He added: “I didn’t know that it was offensive to take bacon to the mosque. If I had known I wouldn’t have taken it. Mr Fenney responded: “I suggest you knew exactly how much offence would be caused by taking raw bacon and that’s why you did it. Why was bacon found on the door handles of the mosque? Because any Muslim entering the mosque would have to touch it.”
Bennett told the court he didn’t know the meaning of the word “jihad”.
The court was also told that in 2008 Crehan racially abused an Asian police officer at Broadbury Road police station, after he was arrested at his home during a domestic disturbance. Crehan said he was high on alcohol and drugs at the time but had since given both up.
Bennett was presented with several Facebook pages, posted in April 2016, in the name Marc Bennet, which contained offensive statements about Muslims and references to a recent attack on a mosque.
Bennett said the pages were not his and suggested they had been created to frame him by left-wing activists. He agreed that he had previously had another Facebook page in the name Mark English.
The four will be sentenced at another hearing on July 22, when the two women will be cross-examined.
The attack on January 17 resulted in an outpouring of support for the Jamia mosque, the oldest in Bristol. Hundreds of people attended an open afternoon the following weekend, and hundreds more pledged their support for the mosque being at the heart of the Totterdown community.