Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Muslim dispute 'ruining' business

Benjamin Vogelenzang and his wife Sharon
The couple have claimed they were taking part in a debate about faith

A devout Christian hotelier has told a court that a guest he allegedly insulted over her Muslim faith is trying to ruin his business

Benjamin Vogelenzang, 53, scolded Ericka Tazi from the witness box at Liverpool Magistrates' Court.

His wife Sharon, 54, also told the court that takings were down by 80% at the Bounty House Hotel, Aintree.

The couple deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words which were religiously aggravated.

The court previously heard allegations the 60-year-old was asked if she was a "terrorist and a murderer" because she was wearing Islamic dress.

But the couple have claimed that Mrs Tazi, a white British Muslim convert, told them that Jesus was a "minor prophet" and that the Bible was untrue.

'Robust' debate

Mr Vogelenzang told prosecutor Anya Horwood in cross examination: "At the time I was persuaded she (Ericka) was quite a nice person.

"I was mistaken, you know why? She wasn't a nice person, she wasn't a loving person, she ratted to the police and is trying to make us lose our business."

Upon hearing his comments, District Judge Richard Clancy told him: "Behave yourself please."

When Mr Vogelenzang returned to the dock to sit alongside his wife he bowed his head and began to cry.

Ericka Tazi
She called Our Lord a minor prophet
Benjamin Vogelenzang

The court heard that the couple, who have five adopted children and have fostered a Muslim boy, returned to the hotel after a holiday three days before the alleged incident on 20 March.

The hotel manager told them that guests had been engaging in robust debates about religion over dinner table, led by Mrs Tazi and a self confessed "happy clappy Christian".

Mr Vogelenzang told his defence counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, that, on the morning of 20 March he overheard Mrs Tazi talking to his wife.

He said: "Her wording was, in essence, 'I've tried all the religions, I've tried Jesus, it didn't work for me but the Bible is untrue anyway and Jesus is a minor prophet'.

"She called Our Lord a minor prophet. My reaction was 'You haven't prayed alone and asked God to prove himself to you'.

Historical figures

He admitted that his wife may have referred to the hijab as a form of bondage, but said he accepted that she wore it because of her love for Allah.

Mr Vogelenzang said he later tried to make light of the situation by reeling off a list of historical figures, including Caesar, Nero, Hitler, Mao and Saddam Hussein.

Mr Vogelenzang said: "She took the examples of history and she started provoking me by saying 'Oh, will you tell me then that I'm a murderer, that I'm a Nazi? You're telling me I'm a terrorist?'

"I never meant it this way."

He denied shouting or referring to the Prophet Muhammad as a warlord, and claimed Mrs Tazi left the hotel "as cool as a cucumber".

The trial continues.



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