Benjamin and Sharon Vogelenzang denied calling Ericka Tazi a ‘terrorist’ after she wore a hijab during her stay
A devout Christian couple have been cleared of insulting a Muslim guest at their hotel because of her faith and asking her if she was a terrorist when she wore the hijab.
Benjamin and Sharon Vogelenzang were accused of launching a tirade of abuse against 60-year-old Ericka Tazi at the Bounty House hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, in March after she stayed at the hotel for a month while attending a course.
She had dressed in Western clothing until the last day of her stay, but when she changed into a hijab they exchanged words.
The couple had denied using threatening, abusive or insulting words which were religiously aggravated.
District judge Richard Clancy dismissed the case at Liverpool magistrates’ court today.
Tazi had claimed the couple became enraged when she wore a hijab on her last day and accused Mr Vogelenzang, 53, of asking her if she was a murderer and a terrorist.
But the couple denied her version of events and claimed Tazi told them Jesus was a minor prophet and that the Bible was untrue.
The couple were backed by campaign group The Christian Institute, which had been holding high-profile demonstrations of support outside the court.
Earlier in court, Sharon Vogelenzang said the prosecution had a devastating effect on the hotel business they had spent 10 years building up.
During heated scenes in the witness box, Mr Vogelenzang accused Tazi of “trying to ruin his business.”
Speaking after the hearing, Sharon Vogelenzang, 54, said: “It has been a very difficult nine months and we are looking forward to rebuilding our business and getting on with out lives.
“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.”
Nicola Inskip, senior lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service in Merseyside, said: “This was a serious allegation made by someone who felt she had been abused because of prejudice.
“In looking at the evidence in this case we had to consider whether there was any evidence that the defendants had caused harassment alarm or distress and in so doing demonstrated to the victim hostility solely based on the fact that she was Muslim.
“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.
“The District Judge heard from eye witnesses to the incident and that both defendants accepted that while there had been a discussion about religion they denied shouting or being aggressive.
“After considering both the prosecution and the defence the judge decided to dismiss the case.”