A father-of-two who filmed a cardboard Grenfell Tower model burning on a bonfire has been acquitted of malicious communication.
Paul Bussetti admitted sending footage to two private groups WhatsApp containing around 20 members in total.
He said the video, taken at an annual party held by a friend, was considered “funny” by those involved and was not intended to be about those who lost their lives.
But footage of the cardboard model being set alight in a garden caused outrage when it was shared online.
It was branded “vile” by a relative of one of the victims.
Last-minute disclosure of evidence revealed on Thursday afternoon that a second video of the incident had been taken by someone else.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said: “I cannot be sure the video relied on by the Crown is the one taken by the defendant.”
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She added that she could not be sure the figures on the tower were not the defendant and his friends burning on the bonfire “in colossal bad taste”.
The judge also branded handling of evidence in the case as “appalling”.
Prosecutors had argued that the figures were supposed to represent victims of the fire.
Bussetti and his friend Clifford Smith, who hosted the party, rejected this suggestion.
They insisted the figures were of the two men and their friends and that the whole incident poked fun at themselves.
A total of 72 people died in the disaster in 2017.
Bussetti, 47, was accused of sending a “grossly offensive” video on WhatsApp and causing footage of a “menacing character” to be uploaded to YouTube.
Giving evidence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Bussetti said it was “certainly not the case” that the figures in the cardboard model, which had “Grenfell Tower” written on it, were meant to be those who died.
Prosecutor Philip Stott told the trial that a comment in the footage referring to a “ninja” was believed to have been about a figure in the tower which was all in black and wearing what looked like a niqab.
The prosecution said the footage, showing black and brown cardboard figures inside the building and some hanging off as if falling from it, was racist.
But Bussetti said the characters were jokey images of his associates, including the black-clad figure, which he said was meant to represent his friend’s son who did martial arts and had been referred to during his childhood as “ninja”.
His lawyer Mark Summers QC asked him: “Who were the subjects of the tower joke?”
Bussetti answered: “The majority of people that were at the party.”
Asked what the joke was about, he replied: “About us.”
Bussetti said he shared the footage with two WhatsApp groups totalling around 20 people because one featured many of those at the party and the other had people who knew his friends.
Insisting he had intended the footage to go no further than those groups, he told the court: “It was funny. Everyone knew it was funny.”
Bussetti, from South Norwood, south east London, said he himself had featured in the tower model, sporting big ears which had earned him the nickname “Pluggy”, but it was not visible in his video as he had filmed the other side of the model.
Rejecting any suggestion that those in the model were meant to be the people who had died he said: “That’s the media and the TV putting their stuff to it that was totally wrong.”
A charge of causing footage of a “menacing character” to be uploaded on YouTube had earlier been dismissed.
SOURCE : https://news.sky.com/story/burning-grenfell-tower-model-was-joke-among-friends-accused-claims-11791265