Insufficient evidence to prosecute over Gateshead Qur'an burning


Following a decision not to prosecute over the burning of a copy of the Qur'an in Gateshead in September last year, Northumbria Chief Crown Prosecutor Wendy Williams said:

"This was a serious incident which the vast majority of people will rightly find repugnant. However, no matter how unacceptable people may find such behaviour, we can only prosecute if there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. This case has been subject to a very careful, detailed review. Northumbria Police carried out a thorough investigation and we have taken very great care to consider all the facts in this case.


"The initial focus of the case was on the identity of the person who recorded the incident and posted it online, but it was not possible to identify who this was. Without knowing who it was, we cannot start a prosecution for the publicity of the video.


"We then looked to see whether we could prosecute any of the participants in the actual burning of the Qur'an for an offence of stirring up religious hatred. This offence requires proof that threatening behaviour was used, and there was no evidence which we could use to prove that.


"We also looked at a religiously aggravated public order offence. For a case to go ahead, it would be necessary to prove that this act took place within the sight or hearing of anyone likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. The individuals involved claimed they did not intend to offend anyone and the incident took place in the back yard of a pub and was seen by very few people at the time. There was no evidence to say that anyone present at the time was upset or was likely to be upset by what they saw.


"For these reasons we have decided that no one should be prosecuted for an offence arising out of this incident, based on the evidence provided to us. If any further evidence comes to light and is sent to us, we will look at it.


"I must stress that our policy is to prosecute racist and religious crime fairly, firmly and robustly, but this can be done only in cases where there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction."