Pig's head man spared jail
by Tim Healey
A man who placed a pig's head at the door of a community centre used by Muslims has been given a suspended prison sentence.
Liam Ferrar (24) appeared at Leicester Magistrates' Court for sentencing yesterday, after pleading guilty to religiously aggravated harassment.
Ferrar went to Thurnby Lodge Community Centre, in Thurncourt Road, Leicester, in the early hours of December 26 and placed the severed head by the locked doors.
The head was facing worshippers from Muslim group As Salaam as they arrived at the centre that morning for prayers.
District Judge John Temperley, sentencing Ferrar to 12 weeks in jail, suspended for 12 months, told him: "You were well aware of the significance of your actions.
"You knew what you did would cause great distress. Indeed, that was your intention."
"The pig's head was positioned in such a way it could not be avoided by all those, including, potentially, young children, who had the misfortune to enter the building that morning.
"It is easy to imagine the shock, distress and disgust they would have felt.
"But the harm you caused goes further. Others in the community and beyond would also have been affected when news of the incident spread, prompting profound alarm, fear and insecurity."
The offence was committed at a time when protests were being held outside the community centre over plans by Leicester City Council to allow As Salaam take over a disused Scout hut nearby.
Mr Temperley said Ferrar would have been "keenly aware" of that background.
He said: "It should have been obvious what you did was intimidatory and would only serve to inflame an already tense and volatile situation."
He said the offence was so serious only a custodial sentence was justified. But Ferrar's remorse, previous good character, work in the community and the fact he was "highly unlikely to appear before a criminal court again" meant the sentence would be suspended.
The judge ordered Ferrar to complete 250 hours of unpaid work and pay costs of £85.
Ferrar had been to a party before he planted the head, which he had acquired at a barbecue the previous summer and kept in a freezer at his home in Brook Road, Thurnby Lodge.
Louise Cox, prosecuting, said Ferrar was a member of the Forgotten Estates group "that has been involved in protests about the use of the Scout hut".
Ferrar, who had acted as a liaison between the group and police and was seen by officers as a "calming influence", was recognised on the centre's CCTV footage.
After being arrested on December 28, he "became tearful" and confessed.
Ferrar's solicitor, Stephen Morris, said his client was deeply ashamed of what he had done and had distanced himself from Forgotten Estates.
He said Ferrar was concerned at the lack of facilities in the area and coached a junior football team for which he paid for items from his own pocket.
When the judge said the sentence would be suspended there was a sigh of relief from Ferrar's family and supporters.
After the hearing, Maxine Williams, licensee of the Stirrup Cup pub and a founding member of Forgotten Estates, said: "I was pleased for Liam that he is not going to prison.
"He is a good chap really."
As Salaam imam Moulana Mohammed Lockhat said: "We are happy justice has been done. We hope this will discourage anyone else from taking part in acts which promote religious and racial hatred."
Mr Morris said: "My client wishes to apologise to the As Salaam Trust for any distress his actions have caused."
Read the judge's comments in full here:
R v Liam Ferrar
Leicester Magistrates Court
18th February 2013
District Judge Temperley
You have pleaded guilty to an offence of intentional harassment contrary to s4A Public Order Act 1986. The offence was religiously aggravated. In the early hours of Boxing Day last year, you placed a severed pig’s head outside the entrance doors to the Thurnby Lodge Community Centre, a building that has been used as a place of worship and Madrasah by a Muslim prayer group for approximately three years.
This offence was to some extent planned, premeditated and targeted. You were well aware of the significance of your actions. You knew that what you did would cause great distress, indeed that was your intention. On your version of events you had acquired the pigs head several months earlier. If that is true, your decision to keep it suggests that you either you or someone else had an offence such as this in mind. The timing of the offence may have been random but it was in my view clearly premeditated. The fact you were under the influence of alcohol is not a mitigating factor.
The pig’s head was positioned in such a way that it could not be avoided by all those, including potentially young children, who had the misfortune to enter the building that morning.
It is easy to imagine the shock, distress and disgust they would have felt. The witness statements I have read bear testimony to the serious impact of your actions. But the harm you caused goes further. Others in the local community and beyond would also have been affected when news of this incident spread, prompting profound alarm, fear and insecurity.
In sentencing you I cannot ignore the context in which the offence was committed. For several months protests had been taking place outside the community centre. The police have been involved and as a result there are a number of cases currently before this court.
Whilst I do not suggest you were involved in any of those incidents, as a leading member of the so called Forgotten Estates Group you would have been keenly aware of the background and you would have appreciated better than most the likely effect of your actions in this wider context. It should have been obvious that what you did was intimidatory and would only serve to enflame an already tense and volatile situation. There was a real risk that your behaviour could either prompt others to exact retribution or encourage others to behave in a similar way.
It is not disputed that initially you were seen by the police as a reliable point of contact and in their words a “calming influence”. I accept that you disassociated yourself from the Forgotten Estates Group because you were concerned that it was being hijacked by others with more sinister motives.
I take account of the fact that you are a young man of previous good character. You have never been in any trouble with the police before. The character references I have read do you great credit. You regularly give your time, energy and money to good causes and to helping others.
I also accept that you have demonstrated genuine remorse and regret for your actions. You cooperated with the police and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
I have read the pre sentence report prepared by the Probation service and noted their recommendations.
Weighing up all these factors and applying the Sentencing Guidelines I conclude that this offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified. Were it not for the element of religious aggravation a community penalty would be appropriate. But this is an offence where the targeting of a particular religious group is the most serious factor and consequently a custodial sentence is inevitable.
However in view of your considerable personal mitigation and the fact that you are highly unlikely to appear before a criminal court again, I will suspend the sentence.
I have reduced the sentence by one third to reflect your guilty plea. The sentence I impose is 12 weeks imprisonment suspended for the period of 12 months. There will be one community requirement attached to the order, namely that you will undertake 250 hours of unpaid work.
You will also pay costs of £85.