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Six years for mosque firebombers

Two former soldiers who firebombed a mosque following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby have each been jailed for six years.

Stuart Harness, 34, and Gavin Humphries, 37, made petrol bombs and threw them at the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre while being filmed on CCTV cameras they thought were turned off.

They were jailed today by Judge Mark Bury at Hull Crown Court after admitting arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered at an earlier hearing.

Judge Bury told the pair: "This was a crime of violence where a particular religious group was deliberately targeted in an act of retribution."

He said: "This kind of attack cannot be tolerated. A severe sentence is required to punish but, more importantly, to deter."

He jailed a third defendant, Daniel Cressey - who denied aiding and abetting the other two but was found guilty by a jury - also for six years.

Judge Bury said: "Whatever your feelings of outrage were, you should have allowed justice to take its course.

"Instead you carried out a retaliatory act of throwing petrol bombs at the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre.

"As is usual in these cases, the victims had nothing to do with the events that so enraged you.

"They were entirely innocent law-abiding Muslims who were practising their religion in a peaceable way."

Judge Bury heard how Harness and Humphries launched two petrol bombs each at the mosque in Weelsby Road, in Grimsby on May 26 - four days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered.

They were spotted by patrolling police community support officers and followed back to Harness's nearby house where they were arrested.

Detectives found they had earlier inadvertently filmed themselves bringing petrol into the house, building the bombs and leaving with them on a CCTV systems at Harness's home.

Jeremy Evans, prosecuting, said the defendants thought they had turned the system off when they switched off the laptop it was connected to.

The CCTV footage, excerpts of which were played to Hull Crown Court, showed the whole process of making the bombs until they left in Cressey's car.

Mr Evans said the bombs exploded outside the main doors of the mosque.

He said it was "lucky" that the people remaining in the building were just on the other side of the doors and realised quickly what was happening.

They put out the flames despite being scared and there were no injuries and minimal damage.

The judge heard how both Harness and Humphries served in the Army with unblemished records.

Evans told the court how Harness had been in the Army for 13 years and experienced "active warfare" during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said Harness had been based at Woolwich Barracks, telling the judge the former soldier lived there with his family and his children went to local schools.

Richard Hackfath, defending Humphries, said his client had also served in the Army with distinction, most notably as a close protection officer for senior officers.

Mr Evans told the court the pair threw the devices as if they were lobbing grenades, as they would have been trained to do.

Harness and Humphries, both of Dixon Avenue, admitted arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered, and Cressey, of New Holland, north Lincolnshire, was found guilty of aiding and abetting that crime at a trial last month.

Cressey drove the other two men to the mosque but did not throw any of the bombs, the judge heard.

The judge said the offences were all religiously aggravated.

Mr Hackfath said his client was a "thoughtful, moral and caring man" who acted completely out of character on May 26 when and the other defendants had been drinking.

He said Humphries, who served with the Royal Artillery, was not a racist and the judge noted that he had worked in Qatar, teaching Muslim children English.

Judge Bury said he was very impressed with a letter of apology Humphries had written.

Charlotte Baines, for Harness, said her client apologied for his "foolish, absurd and reckless behaviour" and said he was "ashamed and disgusted" by what he had done.

She said Harness was "struggling to undertand how his personal feeling about that situation in London (the murder of Fusilier Rigby) transformed into him taking direct action in the way he did".

Yesterday, Michael Adebowale, 22, and Michael Adebolajo, 29, were found guilty at the Old Bailey of murdering Fusilier Rigby.

In Hull today, Judge Bury began his sentencing remarks by referring to that case.

He said: "The murder of Lee Rigby - a serving soldier with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - outside Woolwich Barracks on May 22 this year provoked outrage and condemnation.

"It was a truly barbaric slaughter of an innocent man committed in broad daylight on a busy London street by two men who claimed to be soldiers of Allah."

The judge said Harness' and Humphries' actions were a "premeditated act of retaliation against members of the Islamic faith".

But the judge said he believed the two men showed genuine remorse but said he had not seen the same remorse in Cressey, who had denied the offence.

All three men sat together in the dock wearing smart suits and showed little reaction when they were sentenced.

A statement from the Grimsby mosque was read outside court by Usman Namaz, of North East Lincolnshire Council.

He said: "We want to say a huge thank you to our neighbours and the good people of Grimsby and surrounding areas who sent us messages of support in the aftermath of the attacks in the form of emails, cards and letters.

"At what was a very difficult time for the Muslim community, we were heartened by the overwhelming outpouring of support from all sections of North East Lincolnshire's community.

"Finally, the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre would like to pay tribute to the Muslim community in the borough for responding to hatred and ignorance with love and compassion following the exemplary character of the Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him.

"Muslims of all colours and backgrounds have lived and worked in Grimsby for decades. We are a peaceful community, striving to build bridges, enhance community cohesion and serve in the best way possible the people of this great town."

Inspector Mel Christie, of Humberside Police, welcomed today's sentences.

"This incident caused concern within a number of our local communities in North East Lincolnshire so it was important that police worked to bring these offenders to justice and reassure those communities who were affected," he said.

"This was a difficult time for the Muslim community, both on a local and national level, so I would personally like to thank the majority of people who provided support to them during this time.

"The incident on 26 May will not hinder the good work that Humberside Police and representatives from the mosque do to help bring communities together and promote cohesion across North East Lincolnshire."


From Belfast Telegraph