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A property mogul has avoided jail time after pleading guilty to posting an “extremely offensive” viral video of a cardboard model of Grenfell Tower being burned in a bonfire.
Paul Bussetti, 49, from Croydon, south London, admitted one charge when he appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court today.
Property developer Bussetti had originally been found not guilty after a two-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in August 2019, but in July 2021 the High Court overturned the acquittal and ordered a new trial following an appeal from the Prosecution. of the Crown (CPS).
Bussetti shot the footage, which was taken at an annual campfire party hosted by a friend in November 2018 and shared in WhatsApp groups.
He sparked outrage when it was widely shared online and made national news, and was criticized as “vile” by a relative of one of the 72 victims of the 2017 West London disaster.
Bussetti was sentenced today to 10 weeks in prison, suspended for two years.
Prosecutors in the original trial argued that the images, which show cardboard cutouts burning as the model caught fire, were racist by showing black and brown characters representing victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in 2017. .
The court heard that there were direct and indirect references to residents of Grenfell Tower in the images.
They included comments of: ‘Who jumps?’; ‘Don’t worry, stay on your floors’; and ‘Jump out the window’.
The court heard Bussetti say, ‘That’s what happens when you don’t pay your rent.’
Bussetti sent the video to two WhatsApp groups: one soccer-related and one for a vacation group.
He is said to have told police: “It was all over TV and we thought it best to tell the truth.”
“It was terrible, definitely offensive to people, it was just complete stupid (sic), one of those stupid moments.”
A victim impact statement on behalf of Grenfell victims said: “The overall reaction from the Grenfell community was one of shock, horror and outrage.”
Bussetti had claimed that the characters were images of his associates, including a black-clad figure representing a friend who practiced martial arts and was referred to as “little ninja”.
Near the end of the trial, Bussetti’s lawyers said a second video of the bonfire existed that they were previously unaware of, meaning there was no way of knowing which footage had been uploaded to YouTube and gone viral.
Then-Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who is now a High Court judge, said she could not be sure he had filmed the video which was widely viewed, including by some directly affected by the tragedy.
But in ruling that he ordered a new trial, Lord Justice Bean said the trial judge should have found the two videos of the bonfire to be similar.
He said: ‘It may be that the sound quality of Mr Bussetti’s video was not as good as the video we have seen, if indeed it was not the same, or the camera angle was slightly different, but that is from minimal meaning.’
The judge continued: “Given that it was clear for the reasons stated above that Mr Bussetti’s video was substantially similar, though perhaps not identical, to the one uploaded to YouTube and played in court, the Chief Magistrate should consider whether his content was grossly offensive and whether (Bussetti) intended it to be so or knew it was likely to be so.’
Lord Justice Bean, sitting with Mr Justice Dove, also rejected Bussetti’s lawyers’ argument that the prosecution’s case was all about racism.
Mark Summers QC, defending Paul Bussetti, said
He continued: ‘Even if the trial court accepts that the cut-out figures may have been intended to represent the accused and his friends, in my opinion that would not provide a defense of the charge.
‘A member of the Grenfell community or other reasonable member of the public, viewing a video of the effigy, would not know that the figures were meant to be someone other than the residents of Grenfell Tower.
‘There are no names attached to the cut figures; only the name “Grenfell” at the top of the effigy, which clearly represents a tall building with people at the windows.
Mark Summers QC, defending Paul Bussetti, said: ‘He pleaded guilty today on the grounds that it was a reckless act. The basis of the statement is important. The defendant did not build the model, his criminality lies in filming it.
Someone else brought it to the garden and shared the video in a private and encrypted Whatsapp group. Of course it was a grossly offensive video, but that was not the intention.
‘Her intention of him was to make an ill-advised and suggestive joke in relation to friends. It was those friends who were largely represented in the stained glass windows.
‘The accused did not make or respond to the racist comments. His criminality lies in the imprudence of sending the video to the Whatsapp group.’
Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring said: “When I read the material in this case and saw the video like everyone else on the internet, I was horrified.” I’m sure you were when you thought it over and turned yourself in to the police station.
‘There were 72 people who lost their lives. I can’t imagine how many people would have been affected, friends, family and the community at large, probably thousands.
Whatever the extent of his involvement, there is little to mitigate the impact of what he did. It was disgusting, disrespectful and offensive.
“I suspect it was offensive to just about anyone with an ounce of decency about them.
‘It was inevitable, in my opinion, that the result of what you did would be the target of the vulnerable victims of the fire.
“I also agree that the damage must also be high because the Grenfell fire and the wider community caused considerable distress.
‘There is a reason why the video, whether you sent it or not, went viral: because of its impact.
“What shocked and horrified me was that no one at that party seemed upset, embarrassed or outraged by the racist comments.”
Paul Bussetti Quick and Facts
- Paul Bussetti, 49, admitted sending a ‘grossly offensive’ viral video in court today
- Bussetti filmed the footage, which was taken at an annual bonfire party hosted by a friend in November 2018, and was shared in WhatsApp groups
- He had originally been found not guilty after a two-day trial in August 2019
- But in July 2021 the High Court quashed the acquittal and ordered a retrial