Millionaire property owner Paul Bussetti this week entered not guilty pleas at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to charges brought following the filming and sharing last year of a sick video of a burning effigy of Grenfell Tower.
This week’s court hearing, and the social media responses to it, saw local racists crawling out from under the stones where they had been hiding since the initial outrage six months ago, when the public expressed its disgust at a group of grown men laughing and joking at a Bonfire Night party over a burning model based on the 2017 tragedy in North Kensington, in which 72 men, women and children lost their lives.
Bussetti lives in South Norwood and has been a member of the local Conservative Club there. In court this week, his expensively hired lawyer spoke in his defence saying, “A joke, no matter how offensive, is not a crime,” before going on to split legal hairs over whether Whatsapp – where the video was originally circulated – is considered a “public communications network”, presumably on the basis that, in law, it is considered ok to be racist in private.
In the hearing, Bussetti denied one charge of sending a “grossly offensive” video on WhatsApp and causing footage of a “menacing character” to be uploaded on YouTube.
Five other men were arrested and a seventh interviewed under caution over the video.
Bussetti, 46, who reportedly owns a block of flats in Clapham worth £8million, was released on unconditional bail. His trial will be from July 29.
The video from the party, with its sounds of raucous laughter from a bunch of boozing mates as they cheered on the burning cardboard building in which they had carefully placed cut-outs of people with brown and black skins, so shocked the South Norwood community that a silent march was staged, attended by hundreds of locals to show solidarity with the Grenfell survivors.
At the time of the march, two South Norwood groups on Facebook were swamped by comments from supporters of the arrested men, who defended them and bombarded the pages with personal insults and racist comments. Several were blocked from the pages as a result.
Similar comments were made on South Norwood social media pages this week, too, after links to news reports of Bussetti’s innocent pleas were posted.
“All lies”, “not true”, and “none of it happened,” were among the remarks posted, from people clearly in denial of the photographic evidence, or perhaps who wished it had never happened.
Other commenters on the news article were singled out for abuse and verbal attacks, including one being called a “vile person” merely for stating what the court report.
There was one thing in common among those who appeared to support Bussetti: none of them expressed a single word of remorse or regret for the incident filmed on November 5 last year, nor did they offer any empathy or acknowledge the trauma that seeing the burning effigy, or being mocked, must have been for the Grenfell survivors.
Members of the South Norwood community have contacted Inside Croydon, expressing serious concerns that such behaviour, and the manner in which it appears to be condoned in some quarters, demonstrates the continuing rise of the racist far-right.
Only last month, two Croydon MPs and ward councillors felt it necessary to write to Crystal Palace football club to exercise some influence over the emergence of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a group which aligns itself with Islamaphobe Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, and which had attracted nearly 1,000 followers to a Facebook page this year.
“The South Norwood community was disgusted by what they saw in that video last year,” one of the march organisers told Inside Croydon, “and many of us were astonished and even angry when they heard about what had gone on in court this week.
“It is obvious that the far-right are on the rise. It is important that we stand up to them and call-out their racism and bullying.
“It could just be that it is time for another Grenfell solidarity march.”
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Thank you for reminding us that this reported disgusting behaviour is still not dealt with by the judicial system. It is timely given the re-emergence of extreme racist organisations, riding on the back of Islamophobia and the xenophobia whipped up by Brexit. We need to stay aware of their insults, threats and provocations whilst remaining ready to demonstrate that these characters do not represent the decent majority.