An English Defence League (EDL) member who displayed a St George flag outside a partially built mosque and shouted “EDL” and “England” was staging a one-man protest against the “monstrosity”, a court heard.
Ronald Peterson, of Elvaston Way, Tilehurst, told Reading magistrates he wanted to speak out against what he believed to be the flouting of planning regulations and public funding of the building in Oxford Road, West Reading.
Two Muslim men who heard the shouting on May 30 said they thought a march was taking place and were afraid the situation would escalate, the court heard.
Police were out in force on Thursday last week when about 20 members of the EDL, who say they are against the ‘Islamification’ of England, demonstrated outside the court in support of Peterson.
The 37-year-old denies two public order offences, one of them being racially or religiously aggravated, and faced trial.
Giving evidence, Urfan Azad told the court he was in the Tea House, in Oxford Road, with friend Amar Nazir on the evening of Sunday, May 30, when they heard “EDL, EDL” being chanted. He said: “We thought it was a demonstration. We went around the corner and saw three guys raising their hands up and they had a St George’s flag on the fence around the mosque which is being built. I felt a bit scared and called the police.”
Mr Azad said prayers were due to take place in the existing mosque about 100 yards away in Valentia Road and he was afraid the situation might get out of control.
Mr Nazir added: “Me and my friend discussed it and we thought it could turn into something ugly. Any other Muslim could drive past and do something stupid and start a fight so we decided to call the police.”
The court heard the police arrived within about five minutes of the call to find two men standing by the St George’s flag.
Sergeant Lee Barnham said: “I asked Mr Peterson what his intention was and he told me he was staging a static protest against this monstrosity and motioned towards the mosque.”
He said he spoke to Mr Azad and said to the court: “He told me he was offended by the use of what he considered to be a religious cross against the site of worship. It was clear to me he was upset about what happened and felt intimidated and I was convinced an offence against the Public Order Act had been committed.”
Peterson, bearing facial cuts and bruises from an alleged assault, said he had planned the one-man protest because he believed the council had given the people behind the mosque preferential treatment and public money to finish the project.
He said he had the England flag with him because he had been watching England play Japan in a football match on the TV at home.
Peterson said: “I’m not a religious person. I don’t follow any religion. I see the St George Cross as being the flag of my country and there is nothing more to it than that.”
He said he had been joined by another man he had never met before as he walked to the mosque and then by another stranger at the site.
Peterson said ‘EDL’ was only shouted twice and ‘England’ once as they posed for photos which he was going to use as part of his protest against the mosque development.
He described the EDL as an organisation against Islamic extremism and said he had been prompted to join because of the issues he had with the new mosque.
Asked if he intended to offend anyone, he said: “’Course I wasn’t. I didn’t think anyone would be offended by the flag of my country.”
Peterson was bailed unconditionally to appear before the same court on Thursday, January 13, when district judge Andrew Vickers is due to give his verdict