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Temple vandal let off 'lightly', Hindus hurt

Toby Champney, who broke Lord Ram's idol at Ealing Road temple, gets two months in jail for racially aggravated criminal damage.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2003 12:22 IST
UK Bureau

Leaders of the British Hindu community were today dismayed by what they termed as a 'light' sentence awarded against the vandals who broke the deity of Lord Ram at the Ealing Road sanatan temple in Wembley on October 25.

At a hearing at the Brent Magistrate Court on November 17, Toby Champney who broke the deity of Lord Ram was sentenced to two months imprisonment for racially aggravated criminal damage, while his fellow Christian preacher, Benjamin Lloyd Jones was fined £400 for racially aggravated threatening behaviour, and set free.

"We do not know why a higher court did not hear the case, since a Magistrate's Court can only award a maximum sentence of six months for racially aggravated criminal damage, whereas a Crown Court has the discretion to award sentences as long as 14 years," said Venilal Vaghela, Chair of the Hindu Council of Brent.

He said: "What caused more concern in the Hindu community was the £400 fine which is not deemed a sufficient deterrent for preventing such behaviour in the future. The maximum fines allowed for racially aggravated disorderly behaviour is £2500."

Local MP, Paul Boateng, under whose constituency the temple falls, would not comment on the sentence but joined in the condemnation of the attack and said: "Attacks on holy places are totally unacceptable. My profound condolences go to the community, for what was a deeply offensive incident."

Dr Harish Rughani, President of the Ealing Road temple, explained that they had been working in partnership with the British Police to prosecute the two criminals. He said: "Once you hand over the culprits to the British police, you have to work in partnership with them and respect the law of the land. We were careful not to inflame passions in the area since we live in an ethnically diverse Borough. I suspect that the judgement may have been passed according to similar cases in the past."

Meenakshi Parmar, the lady who had apprehended the two criminals in the temple hall until the police arrived, also praised the police and said: "They were very helpful after the crime was committed and did all they could to prosecute the two men. But I must say that I am disappointed with the sentence handed by the magistrate."

Swami Nirliptananda, Chair of the Hindu Centre for Communications, said: "It was good that the Hindu community showed restraint by keeping calm and not allowing the situation to create any further discord between the communities in Brent. At the same time, a stronger sentence for Benjamin Jones could have proved that the Crown Prosecution Service will not tolerate such crimes in the future."

The backlash of this incident is also being felt across various universities across the UK. "Students on campus have been disturbed by the entire incident, and generally as a national body we are concerned that this type of thing can filter onto campus and at organised functions such as Navratri," explained Nishma Shah, Vice President of the National Hindu Students Forum.

"Incidents such as these have taken place during fresher's fayres, and with the help of the National Union of Students we have campaigned against this in the past. However, our local branches have shown concern that security and other sources of protection may now be necessary as there appears to be no serious punishment for this type of behaviour," Shah said.

Jyostna Thanki, Chair of the Hindu Council of Birmingham questioned the Crown Prosecution Service's attempts in reaching their decision by asking: "If a similar incident had happened in a church, would they have awarded the same sentence?"

Local councillors from Brent joined in expressing their shock over the sentencing. Ramesh Patel, Labour Councillor from Queensbury felt that the sentence was an invitation to religious bigots to invade Hindu temples since "they would know they can get off very easily." He added: "In light of the fact that tens of thousands of Hindus across the country were hurt by the actions of these two individuals, the sentencing could easily have taken place at a higher court with higher penalties."

Ishwer Tailor, of the Gujarat Hindu Society in Preston, said: "We shall be writing to the Crown Prosecution Service to understand why a stronger sentence was not awarded at a higher court."

Hindu leaders will be meeting in London next week to discuss issues of security and prosecution arising from the incident.