British man accused of harassing German neighbors

March 19, 2012 - 1:46 PM

LONDON (AP) — A British math teacher was convicted Monday of harassing his German neighbors with loud wartime music and Nazi salutes.

Prosecutors said Geoffrey Butler, 54, caused Reinhard and Kathryn Wendt four years of misery, among other things miming a Nazi salute and a Hitler mustache, playing a Winston Churchill speech and blasting patriotic British songs like "Rule Britannia."

Lawyers at Medway Magistrates' Court said relations between the neighbors soured soon after the Wendts moved in next door to Butler in the village of Lower Upnor, southern England, in 2007, apparently in a dispute over a small piece of land. Butler and Reinhard Wendt eventually came to blows.

Prosecutor Alistair Dickson said Butler "decided to make their lives a misery because of Mr. Wendt's German origin."

Butler had denied the charge of racially aggravated harassment, which in Britain covers crimes based on national, as well as ethnic, origin. He called the allegation "totally absurd" and said he believed the dispute was only over the land.

"As far as I was aware, all the issues were to do with what they are now calling civil matters," Butler said. "I was not aware that among these matters were incidents where I was alleged to be racist and I was accused of Nazi abuse."

Butler was sentenced to a three-year conditional discharge, which allows him to remain free unless he offends again. He was also given a restraining order banning him from playing loud music, insulting behavior, and pointing photographic equipment at his neighbors or their property.