The prison sentences handed down to Stuart Harness, Gavin Humphries and Daniel Cressey, who launched a firebomb attack on Grimsby Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre last May, are very welcome.
As the judge pointed out in sentencing them, the substantial prison terms handed out to the three arsonists – six years each for Harness and Humphries, three for Cressey – were intended to serve not just as an appropriate punishment for the perpetrators themselves but also as a deterrent to other violent racists who might be inclined to follow them.
Although there is no evidence of direct links between the three men and the English Defence League, it should be noted that their firebombing of Grimsby Mosque was preceded by an online campaign by local EDL supporters calling for an arson attack on the building.
Steven Ballard posted the following comment on the EDL Grimsby division’s Facebook page: “Burn the mosque down the end of Legsby Avenue. That will tell the clowns in charge in this country that we ain’t taking this shit and it will start a nationwide action going. Grimsby will be on the map big time then.”
Matthew Tyson also posted on the EDL Facebook page calling for the mosque to be attacked. “Target that place for start”, he wrote. “A British church into a mosque. Now that’s got my blood boiling.” He added: “We’re patriotic racists. The place needs burning.”
Given that these inflammatory Facebook comments were immediately followed by an actual firebomb attack on the mosque, it is difficult to understand the lenient sentences that were handed out. Ballard was given a 12-week suspended prison sentence and a six-month supervision order, while Tyson received a 12-week suspended prison sentence and a 12-week curfew.
A third Grimsby man, Terence Baker, who also posted comments on Facebook calling for the mosque to be burned down, was sent to prison for eight weeks, the reasons for the discrepancy in sentencing being unclear.
At least Ballard and Tyson were prosecuted. As Tell Mama have pointed out, the police have generally shown a marked reluctance to take action against those who have posted anti-Muslim hate messages online. Fiyaz Mughal told the BBC that “there have been numerous occasions where we have sent information about direct threats to mosques, which frankly we haven’t heard anything about”.
A case in point is the comments posted on the EDL Bristol division’s Facebook page on 4 December, calling for a building that is intended for conversion into a mosque to be burned down. Despite coverage in the local paper, who were told that police were “looking into” the matter, there is no indication that anyone has been arrested and the calls for an arson attack on the proposed mosque have still not been removed from the EDL’s Facebook page.