Three guilty of terror offence for displaying images of paragliders at pro-Palestine march

Three people accused of displaying images of paragliders at a pro-Palestinian march have escaped jail after being found guilty of showing support for a terrorist group.

Heba Alhayek, 29, and Pauline Ankunda, 26, and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27, were handed 12-month conditional discharges at Westminster Magistrates' Court, after Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram said he had "decided not to punish" them.

The trio stood trial following widespread condemnation when their images were spread on social media after the demonstration in October.

It came a week after Hamas militants used paragliders to enter Israel in attacks that killed more than 1,000 Israelis.

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Alhayek and Ankunda were accused of attaching images of paragliders to their backs, while the third defendant was said to have stuck one to the handle of a placard.

The Metropolitan Police launched a social media appeal to find them, and Alhayek and Ankunda handed themselves in to Croydon Police Station, the court heard.

All three were charged under the Terrorism Act with carrying or displaying an article to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are supporters of banned organisation Hamas.

Prosecutor Brett Weaver told the court: "The displaying of these images could be viewed as celebrating the use of the paragliders tactic."

But Mark Summers KC, representing Alhayek and Ankunda, said police had "mistaken" what they saw and were fed a narrative by partisan social media groups.

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He said they were actually displaying a "cartoon parachute" used as a "symbol of peace".

In his verdict, Judge Ikram said there was nothing to suggest the group were Hamas supporters.

But, he said, "seven days earlier, Hamas went into Israel with what was described by the media as paragliders. A reasonable person would have seen and read that.

"I do not find a reasonable person would interpret the image merely as a symbol of freedom.

"You've not hidden the fact you were carrying these images. You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue. Your lesson has been well learnt.

"I do not find you were seeking to show any support for Hamas."