The recent jailing of two individuals for desecrating Edinburgh Central Mosque has caused controversy – not for the crime itself but rather the custodial sentences they received.
Chelsea Lambie, 18, was sentenced to 12 months in a Young Offenders Institution whilst Douglas Cruikshank, 39, received nine months in prison. Cruikshank, Lambie, and a third offender, Wayne Stilwel, 25, threw uncooked strips of bacon inside Edinburgh Central Mosque and attached more to its door handles.
In response, both Britain First and the English Defence League (EDL) pushed the far-right myth of a two-tier legal system. Richard Dawkins, prominent scientist and atheist, remarked on Twitter, “How can you be jailed a year for nonviolently draping bacon on a door?” But it did not end there, his stream of consciousness continued to question the severity of the crime, “Who (apart from the pig) is damaged by bacon? How can this possibly justify a year in jail? Law gone mad.”
Dawkins incorrectly highlighted the double standard of those not imprisoned for holding up signs that read, “Behead those who insult Islam.” Yet, his most bizarre example of obfuscation was to compare the door of a vegan to that of a mosque. Unlike the far-right, Dawkins did acknowledge that bacon smearing was “a very nasty thing to do,” but still argued that a year in prison remains “ludicrously harsh.”
But does Dawkins have a point? In short, no, only a superficial understanding of the case could generate that response. There are several factors to consider and help explain why custodial sentences were handed out. Firstly, both Lambie and Cruikshank ran into legal trouble last year. The former was fined after using racist and threatening language at a shopkeeper. Cruikshank pleaded guilty to acting aggressively towards police officers in a pub.
During the trial, Cruikshank only changed his plea to guilty after convincing the judge to drop the racial element, whilst Lambie was found guilty after denying the charges. Both were convicted after trial of an offence in contravention of S38(1) of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 – namely Threatening and abusive behaviour.
Scottish law is clear:
“(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence if—
(a) A behaves in a threatening or abusive manner,
(b) the behaviour would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm, and
(c) A intends by the behaviour to cause fear or alarm or is reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause fear or alarm.”
Both sentences were in line with legislation:
“(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or to a fine, or to both, or
(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.”
We must also not discount the premeditated nature of the crime, as on the day of the attack (January 31 2013), CCTV footage was shown to the jury of two men and a woman entering a local Tesco store at 4:45am and asking an assistant which bus they needed to catch to be at the mosque for 7:30am. At another store, the three individuals purchased two packets of bacon. A short time later, they arrived at Edinburgh Central Mosque with their hoods up. Bacon was wrapped around the door handles as the woman triumphantly took photographs of the men.
One worshipper was already inside praying and waved at the trio, assuming they would be entering the building to do the same, but instead, bacon was thrown onto the prayer room window, as they fled the scene in laughter.
Usman Mahmood, a security guard at the mosque, told the trial: “I felt very bad seeing this meat in my sacred place. It hurt my feelings when I saw this meat hanging inside the mosque in the worshipping area. It was very disturbing.” Mahmood also stated that the situation might have been “far worse” had the mosque contained more worshippers. Clearly, the incident at the mosque could have had far-reaching implications as mosque incidents and attacks send a message out to the users of the mosque that they, collectively as a community, have been targeted as users of that faith institution. This incident was therefore meant to demean, insult, abuse and target the institution and would have an impact on all those who used and visited the mosque. It was, in essence, meant to collectively humiliate.
When Lambie was arrested, police found incriminating messages on her mobile phone. On the day of the crime, messages included:
“Going to invade a mosque, because we can go where we want.”
Another read: “Went to the mosque in Edinburgh and wrapped bacon round the door handles, opened the door and threw it in ha ha ha.”
The internet on the mobile phone was used to locate the mosque and local taxi firms.
Hours after the crime, Lambie used the phone to search on Google: “Edinburgh mosque bacon search.”
Sentencing Lambie, Sheriff Noble did note that she was a mother with a young child, but her continual denial of guilt eventually worked against her. Had the Sheriff not amended the charge against Cruikshank, his sentence would have increased to thirteen months in prison.
Following sentencing, John Logue, Procurator Fiscal for East of Scotland, said, “Prejudice and bigotry have a corrosive effect on our nation and we will maintain our zero-tolerance approach towards such crimes which will continue to be investigated carefully and prosecuted robustly.”
Pork is part of the far-right’s anti-Muslim culture war and this crime is merely a product of it. Dismissing or downplaying it demonstrates a lack of empathy and helps normalise such repugnant behaviour which in the end, targets whole communities who use such faith institutions.