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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Man admits he 'pulled off' hijab
Damien French walking into court in 2006 over a separate charge
Damien French outside court during an animal cruelty trial in 2006
A woman felt "violated" when a man pulled off her religious headscarf - hijab - as she walked along a north Wales street pushing a pushchair.

Mold Crown Court heard that Damien French, 21, of Rhyl, had a previous conviction for animal cruelty when he fed a live zoo rabbit to an alligator.

French admitted racially aggravated common assault and a racially aggravated public order offence.

Adjourning sentence, the judge warned French he could still face prison.

The court heard that Shahenna Hussain, 23, had been walking with her sister and two nieces, pushing pushchairs along the street at the junction of Rhyl's High Street and Wellington Road in April.

A witness in a shop saw French hurling abuse at a coach which appeared to be full of Asian passengers.

When Miss Hussain saw him she put her head down to avoid eye contact.

Drawing of Hijab
The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil

French and his group noticed her as she crossed the road and shouted and swore at her.

Gareth Parry, prosecuting, said: "She suddenly felt a violent grip to the top of her head, connecting with her hijab, which was fixed with two pins. But the pins were forced open."

He added: "She was particularly upset that the hijab was pulled off. She wears it to identify herself as a Muslim and in respect to her religion."

Two police community support officers had seen what happened and French was arrested. When interviewed, he denied he had done anything improper.

French initially pleaded not guilty but changed his plea in the magistrates' court.

Brian Treadwell, defending, said French had written a letter of apology and accepted his behaviour was "thoroughly shameful and disrespectful".

They are very serious offences. It was not simply personal violation but one which involved her religious and cultural position
Mr Recorder Robert Trevor-Jones

Mr Treadwell claimed the hijab did not actually come off, the victim was caused no injuries and it was clearly more of a mark of disrespect than an attempt to cause injuries. But, he said, it was clearly an assault.

He said he wished to correct any impression that French, who he said had learning difficulties, did not accept what he had done was wrong.

Mr Treadwell said the pre-sentence report suggestion of a residence condition at a hostel to follow various courses, including an enhanced thinking skills course, was not a soft option.

Mr Recorder Robert Trevor-Jones said that on initially reading the case papers and considering French's conduct towards Miss Hussain, he thought of a custodial sentence.

"They are very serious offences," he said. "It was not simply personal violation but one which involved her religious and cultural position.

"She feels justifiably outraged at that."

Sentence was adjourned for three weeks for reports.

In April 2006, French was given a six-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of animal cruelty at Llandudno Magistrates' court.

The court heard that in the previous October, he had taken a rabbit from the petting section of the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, and dropped it into the alligator pool where it was savaged by Albert - a large male alligator.


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