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Facebook mosque threat 'knuckle-draggers' get suspended sentences

By Nevin Farrell

Published 21/06/2016

One of the defendants, James Boyd
One of the defendants, James Boyd
The mosque in Coleraine

A judge has described two men who made Facebook threats against a mosque in Coleraine following last year's Paris attacks as "knuckle-draggers".

District Judge Peter King was speaking yesterday at Coleraine Magistrates' Court, where James Boyd (27), of Windyhill Road, Macosquin, and Lee Gareth Darren McConnell (31), of Millfields, Balnamore, were each sentenced to five months in jail, suspended for three years.

Both previously admitted sending a grossly offensive message on the website.

Yesterday, McConnell also pleaded guilty to publishing written material that was threatening, abusive or insulting and intending to stir up fear. Boyd also admitted a charge of sending a menacing message.

The court heard Boyd had written: "When are we going to burn it? Surely we could get a crowd handy."

McConnell, meanwhile, wrote: "They need burned alive in the mosque, the tramps".

A prosecutor said there was no evidence the mosque had been attacked as a result of the comments, but he added that it had cancelled services for a time as a direct result.

The lawyer added that police were told by Boyd that freedom of speech meant he often made comments about "Pakis". He also admitted he may be "a wee bit racist", but was not against black and Chinese people and bought food from kebab shops.

The prosecutor claimed McConnell told police that although Muslims had made threats to European countries, he was "not racist" and his comments were only for his friends to see.

Defence barrister Alan Stewart said Boyd, a student, had "wrecked his life" by making the comments. His client also admitted it was the stupidest thing he had ever done.

Mr Stewart said Boyd attended university with Muslims and "would never dream" of making such comments to them.

The lawyer added: "He did not properly engage his brain before typing the comments."

Francis Rafferty, defence barrister for McConnell, told the court the internet could be as much of a hindrance as a help to some people.

"These stupid, moronic comments would be the kind of thing the idiotic would say to each other in bars and it wouldn't go any further," he added.

"But with Facebook and Twitter, they are given flight and make their way out into the world without any thought for the consequences."

Mr Rafferty said McConnell had seen something on the news, felt the need to share his opinions with friends and "had jumped on the bandwagon", following other comments, but had now shown remorse.

Boyd was in the dock at the court and McConnell appeared via video link from prison.

District Judge King told the duo: "You both decided in relation to a terrorist outrage in Paris, committed in the name of a violent and extremist group in the Middle East, to not extend any sympathy to the victims."

Instead, added the judge, they put up "violent" views on Facebook. He said both men had discussed, in violent terms, what they were planning to do at "a place of worship used by a vulnerable minority".

Calling the men "knuckle-draggers" he said, thankfully, there was no damage to the mosque but there was a degree of disruption. He stated that the court could not allow the publication of such material to go without being marked in the "most severe way".

Imposing a five-month sentence on each defendant, suspended for the maximum three years, he said the case was clearly motivated by hostility.

Judge King told Boyd he was astounded that, as a student, he had got involved and told him to take a hard look at how he reacted to "those who come to our society that don't look like yourself".

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