The Christian couple who were prosecuted for a “religiously aggravated” crime, but later found innocent of all charges, have spoken of their anguish at the eight month long process.
Ben and Sharon thank The Christian Institute for support
Widespread media coverage over the weekend has hailed the verdict as a victory for common sense.
But the couple at the centre of the storm have now spoken out about the personal and financial cost they are suffering as a result of the trial.
Speaking following the Liverpool District Judge’s decision to throw the case out, Sharon Vogelenzang said the hotel’s financial situation is now “very serious”.
She continued: “We have one guest for January and don’t have any other bookings until the Grand National in April.
“The hotel could close. It is up for sale and we may have to hand in the keys if we can’t pay the mortgage.
“We couldn’t have survived until now without gifts from Christians around the world.”
She added that the police interview was “very intense”.
Mrs Vogelenzang said: “We got to the police station at ten in the morning and left at about four o’clock. We were interviewed separately.
“I went into a small, white room with a table and four chairs.
“One of the two officers took notes and the interview was recorded on tape.
“It was extremely hard to sit there and listen to a lot of lies being told about us.”
Neither Mr or Mrs Vogelenzang have ever been in trouble with the police.
Ben Vogelenzang said: “We are totally law-abiding citizens”.
He continued: “We grew up with the idea that the police are your friends. I am not so sure now.”
Commenting on the trial itself, Mrs Vogelenzang said: “Because Ben was put on the stand first, I saw all the stress of the last eight months coming out as he gave his evidence.
“I was determined to tell the truth and hoped someone would listen.”
Mr Vogelenzang said: “We were surprised how fast the judge reached his decision.
“We were also amazed at the media interest – newspapers and TV stations from all over the world were ringing up.
“When we came out of court, we were so relieved – stunned but relieved.
“There was sustained applause for five minutes after the verdict was given.”
The couple also highlighted that they had been subject to threats: “Some of the messages are scary,” said Mr Vogelenzang.
“They were saying things like, ‘We will get you. We will smash you up. We know where you live.’
“Will these threats be investigated as vigorously as the allegations against us? That remains to be seen.”
Mike Judge, The Christian Institute’s Head of Communications, writing in the Mail on Sunday, questioned why the case was even brought against the Vogelenzangs.
He said: “Now that the case is over I hope the nation will ask itself: What’s happening to free speech?
“How on earth did a breakfast discussion about religion end up with two Christians sitting in the dock at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court?
“Big questions need to be asked of the police and the CPS.
“But we need to ask wider questions, too, about the direction free speech is taking.
“It seems we have become hypersensitive on a range of subjects.
“We roll our eyes and shake our heads at the ‘political correctness’ of it all.
“But it gets much more serious when the police appear to be acting on this hypersensitivity and investigating incidents that ought to be nowhere near the criminal law.”
He continued: “I don’t blame the ordinary bobby on the street.
“Most are decent, hardworking public servants who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe.
“But I do blame the endless stream of equality and diversity policies that have been passed by the Government and embraced so enthusiastically by police chiefs anxious to appear in tune with fashionable thinking.
“If freedom of speech means anything at all, it must mean the freedom to say something that someone else may not like.
“Otherwise all we are left with is the freedom to be inoffensive – and that kind of freedom is not worthy of the name.”