A judge has described two men as “knuckledraggers” after they made Facebook threats against a Mosque in Coleraine following last year’s Paris terror attacks.
District Judge Peter King was speaking at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday 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.
They had previously each admitted sending a grossly offensive message on Facebook.
And at Monday’s court McConnell further pleaded guilty to publishing written material which was threatening, abusive or insulting, intending to stir up fear and Boyd 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 had written: “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 the situation had led to services being cancelled for a time.
The prosecutor said police were told by Boyd freedom of speech meant he often made comments about “Pakis” and he admitted he may be “a wee bit racist” but was not against Blacks and Chinese and visited kebab shops.
The prosecutor said McConnell told police 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 university student, had “wrecked his life” by making the comments and his client had admitted to him it was the “most stupid” thing he had ever done.
Mr Stewart said Boyd attends university with Muslims and “would never dream” of making such comments to them in person.
Added the barrister: “He did not properly engage his brain before typing the comments”.
Francis Rafferty, defence barrister for McConnell, said the internet can be as much of a hindrance as a help to some people.
“These kind of 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 but with Facebook and Twitter they are given flight and make their way out into the world without any thought for the consequences,” he added.
Mr Rafferty said McConnell had seen something on the news and felt the need to share his opinions with friends and “had jumped on the bandwagon” following other comments but has now shown remorse for his actions.
Boyd was in the dock at the court and McConnell appeared via video link from prison where he is a serving prisoner.
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, said the judge, they put up “violent” views on Facebook.
Judge King said the views were not the image of Coleraine he recognises.
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 “knuckledraggers” he said, thankfully, there was no damage to the Mosque but there was a degree of disruption.
The judge said people cannot go on the internet and disseminate such views against a vulnerable minority and said the court could not allow the publication of such material to go without being marked in the “most severe way”.
Imposing five months sentences, suspended for the maximum three years, he said the case was clearly motivated by hostility.
Judge King told Boyd he was astounded that a university student had got involved and said he should stay away from the internet and take a long hard look at how he reacts to “those who come to our society that don’t look like yourself”.