A millionaire property tycoon accused of sharing footage of his friends burning a cardboard effigy of Grenfell Tower has been found not guilty by a judge, after it emerged that vital evidence had not been shared with his defence team.
Married father-of-two Paul Bussetti, 47, from South Norwood, south-east London, was cleared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today of sharing the ‘grossly offensive’ video online.
He admitted sharing his clip to two private WhatsApp groups but said he hadn’t posted it anywhere else.
After closing submissions in the trial, Mr Bussetti’s defence team was told that another video of the incident, posted by someone other than the defendant, might have been the one seen online by millions.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot branded the late revelation ‘appalling’ and said: ‘I cannot be sure the video relied on by the Crown is the one taken by the defendant.’
Demanding an explanation from police and a senior CPS lawyer about what had happened in this case, she said the eventual disclosure of the evidence had helped to avoid ‘a potential miscarriage of justice’.
Paul Bussetti, 47, makes a throat-slitting gesture after being cleared of sharing footage of his friends burning a cardboard effigy of Grenfell Tower
The footage sparked a massive public outcry after Mr Bussetti allegedly captured it on his phone and sent it to two groups of friends.
Amid the anger, Mr Bussetti was arrested and later charged with one count of sending the video on a WhatsApp group and a second of ‘causing’ the footage to be posted on YouTube.
Mr Bussetti, who reportedly owns an £8million block of flats in Clapham, south London, denied the charge and his stop-start trial has been ongoing since May.
It was discovered today that another man, Paul Hancock, had told officers that he posted a video of the incident to a darts group.
But this information was not passed on to Mr Bussetti’s defence until the end of the trial.
After the revelation, Chief Magistrate Arbuthnot said: ‘I’m just appalled at the disclosure in this case.
‘I’m going to want to know more about how on earth disclosure has got to this stage. It’s highly unsatisfactory and appalling.’
The footage (pictured) sparked a national outcry after Bussetti allegedly captured it on his phone
She praised Mr Bussetti’s defence barrister Mark Summers QC for spotting a police interview transcript of Mr Hancock admitting to also sharing the bonfire video had not been disclosed to the defence.
She said: ‘Had these issues been raised at half time I may well have upheld Mr Summers submission of no case.
‘Had Mr Summers raised an abuse of process that too may have succeeded.
‘It seems on the face of it however the very latest this morning warnings bells should have been ringing.
‘It’s Mr Summers keeping his wits about him who prevented potentially a miscarriage of justice.’
Paul Bussetti was arrested and charged after a video emerged of the burning of an effigy of Grenfell Tower
Of the disclosure process, she said: ‘Once someone has been charged with an offence there is a tendency to take the foot off the pedal and not review the case much afterwards.’
Mark Summers said: ‘If I seem angry that’s because I am.
‘Firstly somebody called Peter Hancock… said in interview that he had videoed the bonfire and he had posted it to the Darts group.
‘It’s now not even clear to us that the video that found its way on to YouTube and national media is Mr Bussetti’s video and with respect we don’t see how we can even be sure about that.
‘He put a video of the bonfire to the group but it now seems somebody else did.
‘Mr Hancock also told police that the figures in the windows were his friends.
‘We have very very serious doubts about the integrity of this prosecution.
‘I’m genuinely concerned that Peter Hancock is somebody I might well want to have brought here to give evidence.
‘All six of them went to the police station to clear this up voluntarily without solicitors.’
The prosecution had argued that the content of the footage, which saw cardboard figures burning as the model went up in flames, was racist in showing black and brown characters who were meant to be victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze which killed 72.
Mr Bussetti and his friend Clifford Smith, who hosted the party, rejected this suggestion, insisting the figures were of the two men and their friends and that the whole incident poked fun at themselves.
A figure dressed in black and referred to in a comment on the footage as ‘little ninja’ was a joke about Mr Smith’s son who did martial arts as a child, both he and Mr Bussetti said, rejecting a prosecution argument that the figure was a Muslim woman wearing a niqab and was intended to mock Islamic dress.
Bussetti, pictured with his wife Gemma (left), has claimed the cut-outs were caricatures of his friends who were at the party
The effigy is believed to have been burned at a party behind this home in South Norwood
Prosecutor Philip Stott suggested to Mr Smith that he and Mr Bussetti had ‘created’ that explanation ‘for what was obviously a racist figurine on that Grenfell Tower effigy’.
Mr Smith rejected this suggestion.
Mr Bussetti said he shared the footage of the effigy, made by his friend Steve Bull, with two WhatsApp groups totalling around 20 people.
Insisting he had intended the footage to go no further than the groups, he told the court: ‘It was funny. Everyone knew it was funny.’
He had used terms including ‘P***’ and the N-word in WhatsApp chats and forwarded racist content, the court heard, but said he was not a racist.
Defending, Mr Summers said two other people had told police the figures were of the defendant and his friends rather than those who died in the blaze.
He added that a second video existed, and said his team had not been made aware of either piece of evidence until the end of the trial.
Ms Arbuthnot added that she could not be sure the figures on the tower were not the defendant and his friends burning on the bonfire, which she said was ‘in colossal bad taste’.
She said: ‘Putting this sort of video on the internet even in a private WhatsApp group could in certain circumstances constitute a offence.
‘But in this case the Crown have not discharged the burden on them, I cannot be sure the video circulated on by the crown is the one by the defendant.
‘The thoroughly offensive racist remarks and images sent by the defendant and others on a regular basis cannot fill the holes in the crown’s case.’
A charge of causing footage of a ‘menacing character’ to be uploaded on YouTube had earlier been dismissed.