To Birmingham to meet Catstrangler 101 (alias Tim Burton) ahead of his trial at Birmingham Magistrates court yesterday (8th April)
The Magistrates Court is a large 19th century Building, opened to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Like much in Birmingham City Centre of the period it was built with a sense of Civic Pride and optimism. The style is Gothic revival; inside the main hall compares well with the Main Hall of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Members of Liberty GB gathered on outside to give passers-by leaflets about Tim’s offence, and to call for Free Speech and the defence of Liberty. We then took our places in Court 13 before District Judge Mr Strongman, a professional Judge experienced in Criminal Law. For non UK readers trials in Magistrates Courts are conducted summarily, decided both on fact and law by the Judge [who may a District Judge or a Magistrate(s)]. There is no jury; that is for Crown Court. This was not a matter for a lay, non-stipendiary Justice of the Peace.
I took longhand notes - I don't do shorthand. Much of the evidence and arguments are in summary or paraphrase. Do not mistake this for a proper transcript. It is not. It is merely an attendance note; no more.
The Clerk to the Justices (that may not be her correct title these days – I recall a time when the clerk in a Magistrates Court was a trained solicitor who advised the lay magistrates, in contrast to the Civil servants who ran a Crown Court with a qualified Judge) mentioned that the main prosecution witness, Fiyaz Mughal, was not present and was expected to give his evidence via video link from an undisclosed location. No other Prosecution witnesses were to give live evidence and it was expected to be an all day trial.
The District Judge asked the prosecution to clarify what the offence charged actually was. The District Judge granted an application to hear the evidence of expert witness for the defence, Professor Hans Jansen. Tim Burton stood in the dock, was identified by the clerk who formally put the charges to him. He confirmed his earlier intention to plead not guilty remained.
The Crown Prosecutor said that he was taken by surprise by the defence’s intention to bring arguments under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act; however the case law as set out in Archbold (Archbold Criminal Pleading Evidence and Practice, the standard Criminal law text) was within his expectations.
The Crown Prosecutor outlined the charges. The background is that Mr Mughal is a director of Faith Matters, a not for profit organisation based in London. He made a complaint to the police that on the 3nd June 2013 he had received a twitter message from one M-Cat, which made reference to him as a ‘mendacious grievance-mongering taqiyya- artist’. He complained that this message was threatening.
A second message followed declaring that M-Cat wished to report Fiyaz Mughal for being a mendacious grievance-mongering little Muslim scumbag, and that he wanted his £214,000 back.
Later a third twitter message read “Breaking News – Mendacious Muslim scumbag Fiyaz Mughal agrees to stop telling porkies if the British Government gives him his £214,000 back”
Mr Mughal complained to the police. The messages were traced to Timothy Burton at his home address where the police attended and he was arrested. Timothy Burton accepts that the messages were sent but he does not accept that they were racist or harassment, but contends that they were fair comment on a political issue.
The burden is on the crown to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant Timothy Burton is guilty of an offence of racially aggravated harassment.
He called the first witness Fiyaz Mughal. Eventually the video link was made and Mr Mughal was sworn.
The Crown Prosecutor examined him, getting him to explain the workings of the Faith Matters organisation, its relationship with the Tell MAMA project and website and the workings to their twitter account.
He was asked what the name ‘M-Cat’ meant to him
He answered that it is an account that sends him malicious tweets. The name stands for Mohammed Cat.
When asked if anybody else was connected with the tweet he replied that it was addressed to Tell MAMA and copied to the EDL. When asked what he thought of the message he replied that he wondered why the EDL had been involved, and why the word taqiyya had been used – a word used by the far-right to suggest that Muslims lie.
The Judge asked whether Mr Mughal is an expert on the far-right and what they think.
He replied “I have had years of experience of them. “
He was asked what he understood by taqiyya.
He said that it is an Arabic word. In the context of the tweet it is calling me a liar because of my faith. It is calling me a mendacious liar because of my faith.
And what do you take the word ‘artist’ to mean?
“That I am juggling the truth”.
There followed discussion between him the Crown Prosecutor and the Judge on the meaning of taqiyya. Mr Mughal explained that historically it was a Shia concept, during a period when they were persecuted, that if their life was at risk, they could pretend to be of another faith so as to save their lives.
When asked how did it make you feel? He replied very frightened, it was an attack on my identity.
Turning to the second tweet, he was asked what he understood by the phrase ‘want my £214,000 back’. He answered that this was a reference to Andrew Gilligan’s article in the Telegraph. When asked about the figure he said that the sum was not accurate but it was the one quoted in the headline to that article.
Of the third message Mr Mughal said that he had never had such a vocal attack on his faith before “it was very personal and got to who I am”.
What do you understand by ‘porkies’?
“It means lying, but was selected carefully, to irritate”
Mr Mughal explained that he contacted an agency in London to find out who M-Cat was. Using legal means they identified, and it is agreed that this is Mr Timothy Burton, at the address read out to the court. In summary Mr Mughal said that the three messages taken together made him anxious, scared, his identity was under attack but he was also angry as they were “so prejudicial against who I am”.
He was asked to detail the funding made to Faith Matters for the three years since 2011. The figures he gave totalled over £300 thousand.
The defence began his cross-examination. He was asked to tell the court about Faith Matters and its relationship with Tell MAMA.
Tell MAMA (Monitoring Anti -Muslim Attacks) is a project that sits under Faith Matters, the mother organisation. Faith Matters is registered at Companies House as a not for profit company, but is not a registered charity. The funds mentioned go into the Faith Matters accounts. Asked about other workers in Tell MAMA he replied that there are 4 workers; the others are two case workers, an outreach worker and an analyst who prepares reports.
When asked about funding other than from government grants he replied that there are private sources. They are a private business and a private donor. The officers are paid but he is not. He is paid by Faith Matters and does the work because he cares deeply about it.
He was asked about how the reports come in via social media and on line. All tweets come into the Tell MAMA account and he is shown every one. The purpose of Tell MAMA is to record street-based and on-line incidents. He didn’t block the tweets that upset him as he wished to see every single one. He denied that rather than being upset by the tweets he took some satisfaction at being able to add to the collection.
Mr Mughal replied that he took no satisfaction in his faith or him personally being targeted. When it was suggested at Tell MAMA he was not an individual but the head of an organisation he said vehemently “I do not like to be targeted about my faith period!”
There was some discussion between Mr Mughal and the defence lawyer about the article written by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, and other criticisms of the organisation.
Mr Mughal told the defence lawyer that “Being targeted by your client is unacceptable.”
We broke for lunch.
When cross examination resumed Defence lawyer asked Mr Mughal some more about the funding of Tell MAMA and the process whereby Tim Burton’s name and address was obtained. Mr Mughal said this was quite simple and was all done via 192.com. He agreed that he had sent Mr Burton a tweet addressing him ‘Hello Tim’ to let him know that his identity had been discovered.
He was again asked about the definition of the word taqiyya.
Mr Mughal described it as a deeply offensive anti-Muslim word. He told the lawyer that your client is connected to many on the far-right, including Robert Spencer.
He was asked again about his understanding of the meaning of the words mendacious and taqiyya and advised that expert evidence would be brought about the concept of taqiyya. The defence lawyer said that these were unpleasant words but were not something that constitutes harassment.
Mr Mughal disagreed “In the context of your client’s right wing connections” and “Your client, Sir, is a far-right activist”.
Finally “Are these the worst tweets you have ever received?”
Mr Mughal “Yes”.
The Judge questioned Mr Mughal on the subject that as Tell MAMA has a purpose to monitor attacks on Muslims use of the qualifier ‘Muslim’ defines his work in the context of Tell MAMA.
Mr Mughal insisted that his faith was targeted, re Mr Burton “This man has a history” and “Your client is a menace”.
He was then re-examined by the Crown Prosecutor and who asked him to clarify, “Who is Robert Spencer”
He replied that he (Robert Spencer) is one of the leading anti-Muslim and anti-Islam activists in the US who was barred by the Home Secretary because his presence was not conducive to national security. The Judge did not think this was relevant.
Mr Mughal’s evidence concluded and he was declared free to go, and the video link was terminated.
The 2 agreed police statements, detailing Mr Burtons arrest and questioning were read.
Mr Burton entered the witness box and was sworn.
He admitted sending the texts and when asked gave the background against which he sent them. He had been aware of Faith Matters and Tell MAMA for over a year and feared that the organisation would have a chilling effect on the free speech of the citizens of this country. However he would not have singled Fiyaz Mughal out for condemnation were it not for the articles of Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph in June 2013. He was outraged that someone in his position would seek to misrepresent statistics of his organisation to keep public funding going.
The phrase ‘let’s stick it to him’ was meant to convey our sense of outrage through the followers of my tweets.
He was asked what do you understand by the word taqiyya?
He replied that it is not limited to the Shia Community. It is a divine permission for Muslims to lie under certain circumstances, such as a Muslim wishing to convey a good impression of Islam, or to protect denigration of Islam by a non-Muslim. It cannot be offensive; it is part of Islam, part of what it means to be Muslim.
Concerning the sum mentioned in the tweets it was the sum mentioned by Andrew Gilligan. He did no independent research into the figures; the tweet was meant to be sarcastic and he thought that repayment would be appropriate.
He used the word Muslim because Mr Mughal is a Muslim. He used the word scumbag for the same reason. He did not intend to suggest that Mr Mughal was a scumbag because he was a Muslim, but that he was both Muslim and an unpleasant person. In hindsight it was intemperate, but he was outraged.
His third tweet was caustic and sarcastic. He intended to highlight the Mr Mughal that is actions were not acceptable. That an organisation which is publically funded should not behave in the way described by Andrew Gilligan.
The tweets were sent to Tell MAMA, not Mr Mughal directly. Some of them were in the third party mention format; he had no idea that Mr Mughal would even see them. He could have sent them direct.
The Judge asked him “Who was your intended audience?” Mr Burton replied that is was his followers. Had he wished to contact Mr Mughal directly there were better ways to achieve that.
He said that he feels he has a duty to speak the truth, his intention was to criticise, not chide but maybe castigate, and he had no intention to threaten or harass at all.
Cross examination by the Crown Prosecutor began.
He asked why the EDL was also a recipient of the message.
Mr Burton said that he had previous correspondence with a person at that twitter address. As the EDL does not have a formal structure he hoped that his acquaintance would have friends who might be interested. Had he wanted to involve the main EDL he would have taken the trouble to find a central address.
Crown Prosecutor – I put it to you that you were deliberately prejudiced and targeting Mr Mughal.
I do not see how it is prejudicial when fraudulent representation has been openly reported in the news and that criticism is merited.
Why didn’t you ask Mr Mughal for a meeting?
I thought I could be more effective by being caustic. I didn’t think he would reply to an e-mail.
So you thought by such a tweet you would warm his manner towards you?
No, I intended to make my view known in a caustic and sarcastic manner. I would not send any tweet intended to be threatening and alarming.
“I submit that it was racist, threatening and menacing.”
No one could read that and think that I was demanding payment of a sum of money. That I did not want it personally; a reasonable person would think that it should be repaid.
“How would you feel about being called a scumbag”
“I would be irritated.”
On the allegation that he was being racist Mr Burton pointed out that Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a racial group. “As I said earlier, I did not wish to imply that Mr Mughal is a scumbag because he is a Muslim”
There was discussion of the definition of ‘scumbag’ from various dictionaries, as an unpleasant person whose behaviour is unacceptable. Mr Burton said that he meant to convey that his behaviour was unacceptable and that he was unpleasant. No reasonable person would take the tweet as his demanding money with menaces.
The Crown Prosecutor declared that it was racist and threatening as well, to which Mr Burton repeated that it cannot be racist; Islam is not a race.
“Muslim scumbag is racial abuse Mr Burton and no doubt about it . . . another example of your deeply offensive racism . . . ”
“No, Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a race”
Mr Burton further explained that he accepted that using the word scumbag was intemperate. He believes that the intention of Tell MAMA is to further the cause of Islam by chilling the exercise of free speech.
The Crown prosecutor said that the tweets were “deeply offensive, abusive, racist and distressing, you targeted Mr Mughal as a class of person, a class of Muslim people, didn’t you?”
“No, I have a problem with politics masquerading as faith.”
Professor Hans Jansen was called as expert witness for the defence. The Judge said he had the benefit of Prof. Jansen’s really helpful and lengthy statement.
Prof. Jansen began by explaining that taqiyya is an ancient Islamic concept. It is not mentioned in the Koran but is discussed in all Koranic commentaries. It is not negative. There are two questions usually asked.
Is it obligatory or only optional? And secondly can it only be used to save oneself, or for the benefit of all Muslims?
One example of the use of taqiyya is the statement that it is wrong to kill innocent persons. Then it is necessary to look at what the definition is of ‘innocent’. A person who pays tax to a government that is anti-Islam is not considered ‘innocent’.
It is discussed at length in the legal treatise the Reliance of the Traveller where it appears under the heading Lying.
He was asked about what Mr Mughal had said about taqiyya that morning. He replied that Mr Mughal may be well-meaning but he does not think that he has studied Sharia Law. He is not a Muslim professional. The Mullahs – they know what it means and that it is not a derogatory term.
It is a correct use of taqiyya that something is done or said to protect Islam. It is not a modern principle. The Koran gives people permission to lie in the interests of Islam. For example the Koran says they should not take unbelievers as their friends, but they may pretend to be friends with non-Muslims to protect themselves.
Islamic theology teaches that there is war between Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb, and in war deceit is permissible.
Cross examination by the Crown.
Are you an expert on what far-right organisations mean when they use the word taqiyya? He read the list of European and Egyptian universities where Prof Jansen has studied and taught. You have never lived in the UK?
No, but I have visited many times, and attended many conferences particularly in Oxford.
“Do you accept that words have different meanings for different people?”
“That is a truism Sir”.
End of evidence
The Crown Prosecutor addressed the court. He had discussion with the Judge.
The Judge said that this is not a conventional harassment case, like that of a disgruntled boyfriend following his ex around. This is a political comment, there is a line; has it been crossed? It isn’t attractive language, not the sort you read in the Telegraph.
Crown prosecutor “Little Muslim scumbag is racially offensive!”
Judge, I would be with you if it was just an extra word of abuse. But it is an essential ingredient of his complaint that this organisation is massaging figures etc. and that they do this as part of the faith. Calling someone a liar in colourful terms isn’t a criminal offence.
Crown Prosecutor It’s the context of all the messages, all the phrases alarmed Mr Mughal. In my submission the Crown has proved its case beyond doubt; Mr Mughal said throughout his evidence that he was deeply upset.
I wish to briefly refer to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act – the right to freedom of expression. That says that there is a right to expression which is broad, and that while in some circumstances the state has a right to restrict speech, that right should be exercised narrowly.
The protection from Harassment Act was not designed for this set of circumstances. It was designed to prevent stalkers and suchlike.
These were very unpleasant remarks but are they a criminal offence?
Mr Strongman went through the arguments very succinctly.
In believing that Mr Mughal was part of an organisation that set out to deliberately exaggerate and mislead on the number of attacks against Muslims, describing Mr Mughal as ‘Muslim’ was an identifier of him as part of that organisation. His use of the word taqiyya, whether in the strict Islamic sense or as the meaning the Crown said it was meant, ie a liar, was an opinion he was entitled to express.
The words may not have been pleasant, or in the language used by the Telegraph, and maybe Mr Burton, you will wish to be more circumspect in future but the words were not a criminal offence.
I find you not guilty.
Mr Burton was formally declared to be acquitted.
The Crown made an application for a restraining order against Mr Burton.
The Judge said “No. I have just confirmed his Article 10 rights – I’m certainly not going to make a restraining order.”
Court rose and we left.