British soldier 'expressed joy over New Zealand mosque attack'

A soldier in the Coldstream Guards expressed joy that Muslims had been ‘butchered’ just 10 days after the New Zealand mosque attack, a court martial heard.

Lance Sergeant Derek McHugh, 37, was working in the guard room at a barracks in Windsor when he allegedly pretended to shoot a rifle while saying he ‘loved’ what the far-right gunman had done.

A military court was told that he also called collague Corporal Momodou Sonko a ‘Muslim bastard’ before voicing admiration for the white supremacist who murdered 51 people in the shootings in Christchurch in March 2019.

When confronted by Royal Military Police officers, L/Sgt McHugh said that he didn’t like Islamic culture and that he ‘didn’t see anything wrong with that.’

Corporal Sonko told the hearing that he was working as a guard commander at Victoria Barracks on March 25, 2019 – ten days after the Christchurch attack – when a letter arrived.

Due to the proximity to Windsor Castle, any post sent to the guardroom is subject to intense scrutiny. Cpl Sonko began questioning the woman who dropped off the letter but was interrupted by L/Sgt McHugh who told him to ‘just leave it’.

Cpl Sonko told the hearing: ‘I said to him in a joking manner that this could be a security risk. He didn’t respond to that. I think he thought either that was not a concern or he didn’t care about what I was saying.

‘Immediately after [the woman left] I was sat doing work on my screen and from nowhere, I heard “you f**king Muslim bastard”.’

Cpl Sonko said he was the only Muslim in the room alongside L/Sgt McHugh and another unidentified soldier.

The Gambian-born soldier, who was attached to 1 Rifles, said he ignored the comment as he had heard L/Sgt McHugh make similar statements numerous times before.

He told Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire that racism was ‘like drinking water’ to the veteran Coldstream Guard and he would regularly use ‘derogatory’ language about minorities.

Moments after the comment, L/Sgt McHugh stood up and pretended to hold a rifle while saying ‘I love the way that man just went into the mosque and…’ before pretending to shoot.

White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, killed 51 people and injured a further 40 in two shootings carried out during Friday prayer. He live-streamed the attack on Facebook.

In August, he became the first person in New Zealand to be jailed for life without parole for the atrocity.

Prosecutor Soloman Hartley told the hearing : ‘[McHugh] doesn’t accept the exact words but he accepts that he doesn’t like Muslims.

‘He doesn’t like Muslim culture and he says he has a right to feel that way and to express that view.

‘He says his view of the culture was formed during tours overseas and he says his son was almost blown up in the Manchester terrorist attack.’

The court heard that this was only the latest in a long line of racial remarks directed at black and Muslim soldiers.

Cpl Sonko said: ‘[At first] I thought to educate him would be better than reporting the case and it being blown out of proportion.

‘There are people who would call it banter but I viewed it as crossing the line. I told him to stop. I told him that is enough. He didn’t say anything. He was just concentrating on the computer but immediately after he giggled and left the room.

‘He was saying “I am happy your fellow Muslims were butchered”. I had to think about reporting the matter.’

L/Sgt McHugh, who was representing himself, indicated in cross examination that the Corporal had misread his hand gestures and misheard what he had said.

He said: ‘You say that I liked the guy in New Zealand who did the shootings. Couldn’t you have misheard me and I [in fact] said it didn’t bother me and I don’t condone it?’

Cpl Sonko replied: ‘The words you uttered were linked to the actions you were making.’

L/Sgt McHugh denies two charges of using racially aggravated threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. The trial continues.

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