Sunday, 7 March 2010
Man Accused of Assaulting Luton Sikh Mayor
A man who admitted assaulting the Asian mayor of a town after Muslim extremists protested against British troops returning from Iraq, told a jury today (Thursday, March 4) he was not a racist.
Kier McElroy, 19, was giving evidence about his part in a demonstration two months later in which it's alleged he attacked a young Asian student in a shop doorway.
Mr McElroy has admitted assaulting the man occasioning him actual bodily harm as well as affray, but he denies a charge of racially aggravated assault on the victim Venkateswara Muppalla.
Mr McElroy was arrested by Bedfordshire Police in July last year, two months after a right wing march in Luton had ended in violence.
The demonstration on the afternoon of Sunday May 24 had involved a group of around 200-300 young men who marched through Luton town centre.
Luton Crown Court was told that the march was in response to a homecoming parade on March 10 last year by the Royal Anglian Regiment through Luton, which had been targeted by Muslim extremists.
On that occasion, young Muslims had carried banners and chanted slogans calling the soldiers "Butchers of Basra", "Baby killers" and "Murderers."
At the start of the trial, Sarah Porter prosecuting said the crown's case was that Mr McElroy had been involved in the violence on May 24 last year. She said he could not be identified immediately because, in addition to his bright orange top and jeans that he was wearing that day, his face was also covered for part of the time with a black balaclava.
She then told how that afternoon Mr Muppalla and his friend Vijaychaitanya Kovvuri, who were students at the university, were walking along George Street in the town centre when they became aware of a large group walking towards them.
The court heard that, on seeing other young Asian males running from the crowd into Chapel Street, the two students decided to follow them.
The jury heard that Mr Kovvuri managed to get into a chicken shop and the door was then locked.
As a result, said Miss Porter, Mr Muppalla was left locked outside in the doorway as he found himself surrounded by people from the demonstration.
The jury have been told that Mr McElroy was part of that group and was holding a banner which it is alleged he used to then strike Mr Muppalla.
The prosecutor told the jury that they would have to decide whether the assault was racially aggravated.
She told the court how, on March 10, when the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment had been targeted by young Muslims, the defendant had assaulted the Mayor of Luton that day.
Dealing with the assault on May 24 last year of Mr Muppalla, Miss Porter said: "The crown say he attacked someone who was Asian simply because they were Asian."
In the witness box Mr Muppalla said he and his friend went into Chapel Street on seeing the crowd, because they wanted to try and get behind the police.
He said on finding himself locked outside the shop, he was then struck once in the face.
As a result, he said he was knocked to the floor and then, when he was picked up, he was struck with a "stick".
In the witness box, Mr McElroy of Langford Drive, Luton, said he had been present in Luton town centre on March 10 last year when he saw the protest taking place against the troops.
"I thought it was disgusting that it was allowed to happen," he told the jury.
He said that on seeing the mayor, he ran up to him and kicked him because, he told the jury, he was the one who had given the protestors permission to be there.
He said the attack was nothing to do with race or colour and he later pleaded guilty to an offence of common assault on the mayor.
Turning then to the May 24 demonstration, he said he thought it had been organised by a group called "United People of Luton".
He said he went into Luton that day, adding "I thought it was disgusting what they did against the troops."
In the town centre, he said he starting drinking at around 10am and continued throughout the day. He agreed that, at one stage, he had worn a face mask which he said was of a "creature of hate" who also had links with Al Qaeda.
He said there had been some chanting against Muslims in general, but he said those responsible were a minority and at the back of the crowd.
Asked what sort of chanting he had been involved in, he admitted he had shouted "scum" but said the words were aimed at the police, saying the reason was they had not done anything about the demonstration against the troops.
He said in Chapel Street he became aware of a conflict outside a shop. He said: "I got involved, I was drunk. My vision was cloudy and I assaulted someone."
He said it was not justified and he had not said anything before striking his victim.
Asked if he had assaulted Mr Muppalla because of his race, he replied: "No, he could have been black, white or Asian. It would not have mattered, I didn't know what I was doing."
Asked if he was a racist, he replied that he wasn't and there were Muslims in his own family as well as Sikhs.