The Crown Court at Southampton, HHJ Boggis QC, October 2003
Benjamin Lewis, aged 25, Scott Bower, aged 26, and Natalie Gibson, aged 19, were jointly charged with an offence of religiously aggravated harassment, contrary to s 32(1) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The particulars of the offence were that on various days between 1 October and 20 December 2002, they had pursued a course of conduct amounting to harassment of the Reverend Christopher Rowberry, and at the time of doing so, had demonstrated hostility to him because of his Christian religion. Mr Rowberry was appointed vicar of St Mary-the-Virgin Church, Eling in 2000. In October 2002, Lewis and Bower commenced a campaign of harassment against the vicar, which took many forms. There was constant howling in the graveyard next to the vicarage at all times of night, and howling from Lewis’ car on many occasions as it raced past the church. Obscene or blasphemous images, including one of a disembowelled Christ, were placed on the church noticeboard. Satanist symbols were etched on church doors and an elaborate pentagram made of branches was placed outside the church. Fireworks were directed at the vicarage and broken glass was placed under the vicar’s car. The most serious form of harassment was a series of nuisance telephone calls to the vicarage at night. The Crown alleged that this was religiously aggravated harassment because the conduct was directed at the vicar, his vicarage and his church. Documents found in Lewis’ bedroom revealed an obsession with vampirism and some hostility to the church, including an article beginning with the words, ‘I spit on Christian belief”. The jury unanimously convicted all three defendants. The judge sentenced Lewis to 12 months custody, Bower to 6 months custody and Gibson had her sentence deferred for 6 months due to her pregnancy.
Case note kindly supplied by James Newton-Price (Prosecuting Counsel)
(2004) 7 Ecc LJ 369-370