Members of a north-east mosque that was daubed with racist graffiti and swastikas today reached out the hand of forgiveness to the man who did it.
Mark McPherson has now been jailed for 14 months for the vandal attack on the building in Elgin’s South Street on May 20, 2019.
He had admitted the racially aggravated act of malicious mischief when he appeared at Inverness Sheriff Court.
The 44-year-old drug addict’s life was said to be in “freefall” at the time of the offence and when police asked why he’d done it he replied: “I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know.”
Black swastikas sprayed on windows
Fiscal depute Robert Weir told Inverness Sheriff Court that Lansana Bangura, chairman of the mosque, had locked the building after prayers in the early morning of May 20.
He said: “Later that night, a witness was walking outside the mosque and heard a noise similar to an aerosol can being sprayed and saw a man wearing a black hooded jacket with the hood down, painting a black swastika symbol directly on to a window.
“He then circled the symbol with red spray paint and sprayed black paint directly over the ‘Elgin Mosque’ plaque fixed to the wall near the entrance door.
“A number of police units attended and it was obvious to them that it had been targeted with black swastikas sprayed on windows and walls and ‘pedo’ and ‘Ala is a peado’ sprayed on the walls with red spray paint.
“Subsequent enquiries identified the accused responsible from CCTV nearby.”
‘Speak to him and maybe change his views’
Speaking after today’s court hearing Mr Bangura said he and the committee would like to speak to McPherson to try to get to the root of his abhorrent views.
He said: “Something must have happened – I think it would be nice to speak to him, to calm him down.
“I think probably talking to him would change his attitude and put him on the straight and narrow.
“We’d like to sit round the table and talk to him and, I don’t know, maybe change his views and attitudes to people.”
‘Council did a good job cleaning it up’
Mr Bangura said he had gone that morning to see the extent of the graffiti and had taken cleaning materials they had been given to the mosque – but by that time Moray Council workers were there.
He said: “We were very lucky, we did not have to spend any money.
“By the time I got there the council was hard at work on it. The council did a very good job – by 10am it was all cleaned.”
‘Scotland has a long history of tolerance’
Defence solicitor Stephen Carty said his client “had a heavy addiction to alcohol and drugs”.
“He was taking street valium and his life was in freefall,” said Mr Carty.
“There are other cases calling at Elgin and a drug treatment and testing order assessment has been called for. He has to tackle his drug problem.
“What we have here is drunken, foolish and abusive behaviour which is a matter of great shame to him.
“He does not hold these views.”
On sentencing McPherson, whose address was given as Meadow Crescent, Elgin, at Inverness Sheriff Court, Sheriff Sara Matheson told him: “The north of Scotland has a long history of tolerance between religions and is friendly and welcoming to all.
“This act seriously offends against that and displays ignorance and hate which has no place in our society. Any racial prejudice will be treated very seriously by the court.”
Police Scotland said any form of hate crime “will not be tolerated”.
Reacting to the sentence Inspector Andrew Wilson said: “We welcome this sentencing. This type of highly offensive behaviour has no place in our society and McPherson must now face the consequences of his actions.
“I hope this also acts as a reminder that any form of hate crime will not be tolerated by Police Scotland.
“No one should be subjected to this kind of abuse and we will relentlessly pursue those responsible for this type of behaviour and ensure that they are brought to justice.”