TWO former English Defence League members are beginning year-long jail sentences after racist attacks at a mosque and two Asian-run businesses.
Steven James Vasey and Anthony Donald Smith launched their offensive after incidents at a war memorial in Luton on Armistice Day last November, where poppies were burnt by extreme Islamic groups.
On the eve of Muslim festival Eid, the masked men, along with an accomplice, climbed a fence at the Nasir mosque in Hartlepool.
The letters “EDL” and “NEI”, for the North East Infidels, were sprayed along with “no surrender” and images of poppies and the St George flag.
Prosecutor Chris Baker told Durham Crown Court that a taxi seen in the area at the time was similar to a vehicle spotted later in Potto Street in Shotton Colliery, where an upstairs window of the Milco store was smashed with a brick.
Similar graffiti to that left on the mosque was sprayed on the shop and the nearby Albert Guest House, which are both owned by an Asian businessman.
Mr Baker told Recorder William Lowe there was an irony that the store was selling poppies when the attack was carried out.
He said taxi driver Smith, 24, of Rydale Court, Trimdon, previously of Neptune Way, Easington Colliery, was arrested the next day.
Messages on his mobile showed planning with then-girlfriend Charlotte Christina Davies and Vasey and included claims they were going “Muzzy bashing” and were going togive the mosque a “makeover”.
Smith, Vasey, 32, formerly of Pittington and now of Eden Crescent, Darlington, and Davies, 19, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, all admitted conspiracy to commit racially aggravated criminal damage.
Stephen Constantine, representing Smith, said he showed a “lack ofinsight” into the consequences and it had been prompted by the poppy burning.
Shaun Dryden, mitigating for Vasey, said his actions were foolish.
Jane Waugh, mitigating on behalf of Davies, said her involvement came to text messages offering encouragement.
She was given a 12-week sentence, suspended for a year, and 200 hours’ unpaid work.
The barristers said all three had severed their ties with the EDL.
Jailing the men, Judge Lowe remarked that the attacks were carried out in the wake of the Luton incident.
He said: “It may be that was something these three had in mind, but it does not excuse this conduct.
He added: “It’s the sort of behaviour from which those who are militant feed.”
After the hearing, Inspector Dave Coxon, of Peterlee Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “I’m pleased that this has gone to court and they pleaded guilty and the sentence reflects the serious nature of the offence.
“We continue to take these sorts of offences seriously and we will strive to support all members of the community.”