Two men jailed for 10 years for Hanley mosque arson attack
TWO friends who tried to blow up a Stoke-on-Trent mosque in a revenge attack against Muslims have both been jailed for 10 years.
Soldier Simon Beech recruited Garreth Foster to help him start a fire at the City Central Mosque, in Hanley.
The 23-year-old, who was serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, hatched his blast plot after being angered by extremist Muslims burning poppies.
In one Facebook comment posted on Armistice Day last year, Beech wrote: "The time has come. We burn their place, burn the lot of them."
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And before that Beech sent a text message to Foster asking him if he was "up for blowing that hole up".
The men carried out their attack in the early hours of December 3 last year when they connected a pipe to a live gas main and fed it 163ft into the first floor of the Regent Road mosque.
They then lit a fire on the ground floor. Firefighters put out the fire before it took hold.
Father-of-one Beech, of Hilton Road, Hartshill, and Foster were convicted of arson by a jury at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court yesterday.
Sentencing them, Judge Mark Eades said: "This is a profoundly disturbing case.
"It seems to me your purpose was not to get at extremists, but to get at Muslims in general and your purpose can only have been to destabilise community relationships.
"Your intent was to light a fire on the ground floor and then accumulate gas on the first floor, so it would go off in violent fashion, causing extreme damage to the mosque."
Beech, who was a member of the British National Party and the English Defence League, quit the Army following his arrest.
Beech's barrister, Hugh McKee, said the attack was pre-planned.
"It was ill thought out, amateurish," he added.
Foster, aged 29, of Hartshill Road, Stoke, had also admitted cultivating cannabis after police found five cannabis plants at his Snow Hill flat.
Foster was handed a six-month jail term for the cannabis and that sentence will run concurrently.
The court heard Foster had not been in trouble for 10 years.
The arson attack had caused £57,626 damage at the mosque, which should open next summer.
Islamic Centre director Rana Tufail said: "The community have put their soul into it and the defendants tried to destroy it.
"These two people tried to destroy so much work by so many people."
Chief Superintendent Bernie O'Reilly, who heads Stoke-on-Trent policing division, said: "This was a planned attack to try to blow a mosque up in a residential area.
"Hopefully the sentences will be a deterrent to people wanting to stir up hatred."
More of our coverage from the trial: