Video: Vogelenzangs found innocent at Liverpool trial

Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang have today expressed relief at being found innocent of a religiously aggravated public order offence after the judge dismissed the case.

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The Christian Institute backed the couple amid concerns there were significant free speech and religious liberty issues at stake.

District Judge Richard Clancy said the evidence against Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang was “inconsistent”.

  • View photos from the trial
  • Speaking outside the court Sharon 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.”

    Police arrested Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang after a female Muslim hotel guest complained that she was offended by comments made on 20 March.

    The guest, Ericka Tazi, told the court Mr Vogelenzang called the prophet Mohammed a murderer and a warlord and likened him to Saddam Hussein and Hitler. She also claimed they had called her a terrorist.

    But the couple denied the claims and said Mrs Tazi told them Jesus was a minor prophet and that the Bible was untrue.

    The judge, as he explained his reasons for dismissing the case, said: “I’m not satisfied on the facts that this case has been made out.”

    He questioned Mrs Tazi’s version of events which amounted to “fairly big differences as to what happened”.

    Judge Clancy also said Mrs Tazi’s claim that she was verbally abused for up to an hour was not backed up by other witnesses.

    The couple admitted they had questioned Mrs Tazi’s beliefs.

    But Hugh Tomlinson QC, who was representing the Vogelenzangs, said: “The fact that someone is upset or offended is not a reason for criminalising the speech used by the other person.”

    The couple faced a £5,000 fine and a criminal record if found guilty of the charge but the court’s ruling means they are entirely innocent.

    A major client of the couple’s hotel ceased referring guests because of the allegations.

    This has led to an 80 per cent drop in the hotel’s income, leaving the couple in financial difficulty.

    Some are already asking why the case was brought before the courts in the first place.

    Nicky Inskip, of the Crown Prosecution Service defended its actions saying: “We were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction that a religiously aggravated offence should be charged.

    “In considering the public interest factors in favour of a prosecution, we took into account the impact that the incident had on the victim.”

    Mrs Vogelenzang said outside the court: “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.”

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