Three men cautioned over racist response to a proposed new mosque in Weston-super-Mare

Three men have been cautioned by police for their part in a mass bigoted response to a proposed new mosque in Weston.

The Weston men, aged 20, 22 and 23, received the punishment on March 31 after sending racist letters objecting to a Muslim Centre in Orchard Street. Authority planners had alerted police to more than 150 prejudiced letters received in opposition to applicant Weston Islamic Centre’s plan last October.

This week centre member Rafiq Islam welcomed the punishment, adding it sent out the “right message”.

He said: “I am glad because this singles out the minority of troublemakers in our community. It also shows racism is not acceptable and will not tolerated by our police, who have done a good job on this occasion. We can only now hope that any new application we submit for a new mosque does not get the same reaction. The whole thing took us all by surprise.”

The amount of racist letters sent into the council in relation to the mosque led to authority planners discarding 97 per cent of submissions. The council passed on many of the comments, mainly from anonymous or fictitious names, to police.

The prejudiced outpour coupled with an anti-mosque Facebook group called “No to the new Mosque in Weston-super-Mare”, which attracted 440 members.

The internet forum contained many written threatening and racist comments, including one branding all Muslims as terrorists.

But despite the reaction, Mr Islam, aged 40, insists the comments were not a reflection of society in Weston. He said: “I don’t think people in Weston are like that, it was just a small group of people scared of what they don’t understand.”

Weston Islamic Centre, based Palmer Street, wanted to use the former Rock Gardens site for a religious school for Bengali and Muslim children. The plan, however, was turned down by planning officers who said it could cause disturbance to neighbouring properties. The centre is currently looking for a new suitable site in the town for a mosque.

Weston Mercury, 16 April 2010