A mosque will not open in Chipping Norton after its landlord received a threat that it would be burnt to the ground.
The town’s Muslim community had been celebrating after they won permission to open the permanent home on Monday. But their 79-year-old landlord Georg Wissinter has received a threatening phone call and pulled out of the deal.
He said: “Someone rang up and said if you go ahead with the mosque then it will get very hot. They were saying they would burn it down. I have got people in the flat above [the proposed mosque]. I cannot take the risk.”
Mr Wissinter said he had only received one phone call but word of mouth around the town suggested the sentiment was more widespread. He said: “There is more than one person.”
Mr Wissinter, who is German, said racists had constantly accused him of being a Nazi in the 35 years he has been living in the town. He said: “I did expect something to happen because of the application. But I did not expect them to want to burn it down.”
The application was to have seen a vacant shop in Hitchmans Mews, off West Street, converted into the mosque. The change of use permission would have allowed it to open from sunrise until one hour after sunset for 10-minute prayers five times a day.
Chipping Norton’s Muslim community currently worships at the Town Hall on Fridays. The 2011 Census said Chipping Norton had 34 Muslims, of a population of 6,337.
Applicant Tahirul Hasan, a Chipping Norton town councillor, said: “It is absolutely shocking. I did not expect this from our local community.” Mr Hasan said he was worried about his own safety, especially as he is a taxi driver who receives late call-outs to remote locations.
He added: “I am not only working for the Muslim community, I am working for the local community. I have lived here for 24 years and I am a councillor and a member of the Neighbourhood Action Group.” Mr Hasan said he was talking to the Muslim community to decide what to do next.
West Oxfordshire District Council, which granted planning permission for the mosque, received 28 letters of objections to the scheme and two in support. But some of the comments were edited out of the agenda for the meeting by planning officers due to their prejudiced nature.
One objector said: “Chipping Norton is the quintessential English market town and as such it is attractive to tourists and visitors and most who live here. I would wish this English character to be preserved.” Another objector said: “It will totally spoil the place.”
Spokesman Craig Evry said Thames Valley Police was investigating the phone call. He said: “No formal complaint has been made to police but the incident is being treated as a potential criminal offence.”
Update: Evidently oblivious to this latest development, the Mail on Sunday carries a report headed “Mosque to be built on Cameron’s doorstep despite residents’ concern over ‘noise and parking'”.
Update 2: Comments on the Facebook page of the British Freedom party, whose chairman is of course Kevin Carroll of the English Defence League, can be viewed here.