UK Christian hoteliers cleared of abusing Muslim

Wed Dec 9, 2009 12:12pm EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A Christian couple who run a hotel in northern England were cleared on Wednesday of abusing a Muslim guest for wearing a hijab and then insulting her beliefs.

Benjamin and Sharon Vogelenzang were accused of launching a tirade against white British Muslim convert Ericka Tazi, 60, at their hotel in Liverpool where she had been staying while she attended a course at a local hospital in March.

Tazi, who converted to Islam 18 months ago, said they had laughed at her when she wore a hijab on the last day of her stay and Dutch-born Benjamin Vogenlenzang, 53, had called the prophet Mohammed a murderer and likened him to Saddam Hussein and Hitler.

Sharon Vogelenzang, 54, admitted suggesting that the hijab was a form of bondage but said her views were based on media references to Muslim women.

The couple also told the court that Tazi had insulted their religion by calling Jesus Christ a minor prophet and said the bible was untrue.

After a two-day trial judge Richard Clancy at Liverpool Magistrates Court dismissed charges the hoteliers had used threatening, abusive or insulting words which were religiously aggravated, the Press Association reported.

He said Tazi's claim she had been abused for up to an hour had not been borne out by other prosecution witnesses.

Prosecutors defended bringing the case, saying they believed there had been sufficient evidence for a realistic chance of a conviction.

"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," Sharon Vogelenzang told reporters outside court after the verdict.

"As Christmas approaches we wish everybody peace and goodwill."

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Keith Weir)