After a “very difficult” nine-month battle, U.K. Christian hotel owners Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were found not guilty of using "threatening, abusive or insulting words" that were "religiously aggravated."
The Vogelenzangs had been accused by a Muslim guest at their hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, of making offensive comments about Islam but District Judge Richard Clancy ruled Wednesday that the evidence against them was “inconsistent.”
“We have been found innocent of any crime,” announced Mrs. Vogelenzang outside the court after Wednesday’s hearing.
“It has been a very difficult nine months and we are looking forward to rebuilding our business and getting on with our lives,” she added.
Ericka Tazi had brought the charges against the Vogelenzangs after staying at the Bounty House Hotel in March. She alleged in court that the couple had verbally abused her for an hour, during which time they called the Muslim prophet Muhammad a warlord and branded her a terrorist.
The couple denied using threatening, abusive or insulting language that was religiously aggravated. They admitted questioning some of Tazi’s beliefs but said she had told them Jesus was a minor prophet and had questioned the authenticity of the Bible.
The case was dismissed by Clancy at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday afternoon after the judge rejected Tazi’s version of events, saying there were “fairly big differences as to what happened.”
“I’m not satisfied on the facts that this case has been made out,” he said.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, who represented the Vogelenzangs in court, later added: “The fact that someone is upset or offended is not a reason for criminalizing the speech used by the other person.”
If they had been found guilty, the Vogelenzangs would have faced a 5,000-pound fine and criminal record. Notably, however, the couple says the case has already led to an 80 percent drop in income after a nearby hospital stopped referring patients to the hotel because of the case.
Following the judge’s decision Wednesday, Mrs. Vogelenzang expressed her and her husband’s gratitude to all those who supported them over the last nine months – “our family, our friends, our church, and Christians from all around the world and non-Christians.”
“And as Christmas approaches we wish everybody peace and goodwill,” she added.
The Vogelenzangs’ legal defense was funded by the Christian Institute.