A Reading man who hung a St George's Cross flag on some railings outside a controversial mosque in the town's Oxford Road was acquitted today.
Ronnie Peterson had been watching the England vs Japan friendly in May 2010 and was carrying his St George's cross flag. His trial for religiously-aggravated public order offences was heard in December but District Judge Andrew Vickers reserved judgment.
While passing the half-built mosque, which he has called a 'monstrosity', Peterson hung his flag on the railings and staged a one-man protest, chanting 'EDL' (an abbreviation for ‘English Defence League’) and 'England' a couple of times. Although describing himself as 'not a religious person', he objected to what he saw as the preferential treatment given to Islam by Reading Council and saw the St George's Cross as the flag of his country.
The recent history of mosque-building in Reading has been dogged by controversy. The one outside which Ronnie Peterson protested is in Oxford Road, and is not yet finished, being regarded as an eye-sore locally. It was supposed to be Reading's only mosque, and yet planning permission was given for yet another one a few miles away in Green Road. Both appear to be on land leased at a peppercorn rent from Reading Council, and gifts have been made by the Council to the Muslims, according to this blog.
Two Muslims in a cafe opposite said they thought a march was taking place. The Reading Post reports:
'Urfan Azad told the court he was in the Tea House, in Oxford Road, with friend Amar Nazir on the evening of Sunday, May 30, when they heard “EDL, EDL” being chanted. He said: “We thought it was a demonstration. We went around the corner and saw three guys raising their hands up and they had a St George’s flag on the fence around the mosque which is being built. I felt a bit scared and called the police.”' Urfan Azad was once feared as a drugs gangster in Reading and has been on a weapons-training visit to a Madrassah in Pakistan. But he felt 'a bit scared' seeing the slightly-built Peterson with his flag. Just for good measure, he and his friend foud an alternative story, that fellow Muslims would feel outraged by Peterson's peaceful protest and set upon him (that's more like it):
'Mr Azad said prayers were due to take place in the existing mosque about 100 yards away in Valentia Road and he was afraid the situation might get out of control.
'Mr Nazir added: “Me and my friend discussed it and we thought it could turn into something ugly. Any other Muslim could drive past and do something stupid and start a fight so we decided to call the police.”'
When the police turned up they did not stand by Ronnie Peterson to protect him from the alleged stupid gangs of Muslims, nor did they give him advice about how to conduct his protest. Instead, without warning him to move on they arrested him. The arresting constable told the court he only arrested Peterson 'because my sergeant told me to.' According to the Reading Chronicle:
'Sgt Lee Barnham said he spoke to the witness, and added: “He was offended by the use of what he considered to be a religious cross against the site of worship.
'“It was clear he was upset and felt intimidated. I was satisfied an offence under the public order act had been committed.”'
District Judge Andrew Vickers was rather less than satisfied. 'Care had to be taken' with the statements from the Muslim accusers which were not consistent with the evidence, he said. Not only did the Crown Prosecutors fail to prove Ronnie Peterson had animosity towards Islam, to substantiate the religious aggravation, they failed even to prove the basic public order offence with which he was charged. The police had other options open to them apart from arrest, said District Judge Vickers, one of which was simply to ask Mr Peterson to move along.
Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, said after the verdict: ‘We became interested in this case because the police regarded the England flag, with its red cross, as an aggravating factor in the case. Clearly Ronnie Peterson needs to know the Lord Jesus, but to place the symbol of the Lord's crucifixion, which Islam denies, on the boundary fence of the mosque was an act which many true Christians would like to have done.
‘Him having placed the flag, the police should have protected Ronnie Peterson’s right to hold a peaceful protest rather than arrest him.It is an outrage that the cross of Jesus Christ could even be thought of as an ‘aggravating factor’ to an alleged crime in a Christian country.
‘Did our fathers and grandfathers die fighting Nazi Germany so that our national flags expressing our Christian heritage could be viewed as religiously aggravating? Did the Muslims coming here not realise that this is a constitutionally Christian country? Can a word of Muslim disquiet now terrify a policeman into arresting an innocent man displaying the Cross of St George, the English Patron Saint and Christian Martyr?
‘The 'not guilty' verdict was the only one possible in a fair reading of the case.But attention should now focus on the politically-correct Reading Police and their wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution of Ronnie Peterson. He should bring an action against them to discourage similar attempts at intimidation in future. The Crown Prosecution Service are also to blame for allowing such a ridiculous case to proceed to trial.'