One of the men accused of setting fire to a Stoke-on-Trent mosque was a member of the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL).
Simon Beech was a serving soldier with the 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, based at Weeton Barracks near Preston, Lancashire, when he is alleged to have set fire to the City Central Mosque in Regent Road, Hanley, in the early hours of December 3 last year.
He is accused of entering the mosque, which was still under construction, with his co-accused Garreth Foster. The Crown Prosecution Service allege the pair were responsible for starting a blaze on the ground floor and feeding a gas pipe upstairs, from a neighbouring property.
Beech, of Hilton Road, Hartshill, and Foster, aged 28, of Hartshill Road, Stoke, deny arson.
Yesterday at their trial at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court the jury heard Beech, aged 23, subscribed to Facebook and the EDL. Peter McMaster, an intelligence researcher with Staffordshire Police, said on November 10, less than a month before the arson, Beech posted comments including "Let's start bashing skulls, dirty, rotten rodents, they breed like rats here, they need to die like rats" and "I say we need to start taking things into our own hands because they are running the place".
The next day he posted "Get as many heads as we can, go and smash some skull and take over Shelton". And Beech said he "liked" a comment someone else posted – 'Nuke all mosques'. He also posted comments including "Time we took things into our hands," and "I say we put a stop to it before it's too late."
Also on November 11, Beech said: "The time has come we burn their place, burn the lot of them."
A statement from Army Captain James Athow-Frost said Beech shared a room with three other privates. He confirmed Beech had been at the barracks a short time and had not been deployed to Afghanistan. And he would not have had any training in explosives or bomb making equipment.
Earlier the court heard evidence from firefighters who attended the incident. Firefighter Alan Filson entered the building wearing breathing apparatus. He said he and a colleague used a thermal image camera to find the fire which was on the ground floor in the centre of the room. He did not see the pipe which came into the upstairs of the mosque from outside.
"You could not see more than half a foot in front of your face," he told the jury. "The flames were from the floor to the ceiling in the central area of the ground floor."
Fire investigation officer Brian Griffiths said there was a large amount of black smoke pouring out when he arrived. He said a large quantity of building materials were used in the fire as well as insulation boards, wooden pallets and packaging. A small gas cylinder was also found near the seat of the fire.
"My conclusion was it was a deliberate fire," said Mr Griffiths.
Sarah Sweetmore, who arrived at her workplace in Regent Road at 9.20am, said: "I could see the hose was connected to the gas meter. I remember hearing a hissing sound and feeling very frightened."
The case continues.
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