Burning Grenfell Tower model was joke among friends, accused tells court

Paul Bussetti said the video was a joke about friends, not victims of the fire. Credit: PA

The burning of a model of Grenfell Tower on a bonfire was a joke about a group of friends, not victims of the blaze, the man who filmed the footage has claimed.

Paul Bussetti said the video, taken at an annual party held by a friend, was considered “funny” by those involved and was not intended to be about the deaths of 72 people in 2017.

The 47-year-old is on trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court accused of sending a “grossly offensive” video on WhatsApp and causing footage of a “menacing character” to be uploaded on YouTube.

Giving evidence on Thursday, the married father of two told the court it was “certainly not the case” that the figures in the cardboard model, which had “Grenfell Tower” written on it, were meant to be those who died in the fire.

A shot from the video which has been described as "grossly offensive". Credit: PA

Footage of the effigy being set alight in a garden prompted outrage when it was shared widely online, and has been branded “vile” by a relative of one of the victims of the disaster.

Laughter can be heard on the video, which has been played to the court, as the model was burned in front of a group of around 30 people at the gathering on November 3.

Prosecutor Philip Stott has told the trial that comment on the video referring to a “ninja”, is believed to have been about a figure in the tower which was all in black and wearing what looked like a niqab.

The prosecution says the footage, showing black and brown cardboard figures inside the building and some hanging off as if falling from it, is racist in its content.

But Bussetti, giving evidence, said the characters were jokey images of his associates, including the black-clad figure, which he said was meant to represent his friend’s son who did martial arts and had been referred to during his childhood as “ninja”.

Paul Bussetti arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

His lawyer Mark Summers QC asked him: “Who were the subjects of the tower joke?”

Bussetti answered: “The majority of people that were at the party.”

Asked what the joke was about, he replied: “About us.”

Bussetti said he shared the footage with two WhatsApp groups totalling around 20 people because one featured many of those at the party and the other had people who knew his friends.

Insisting he had intended the footage to go no further that the groups, he told the court: “It was funny. Everyone knew it was funny.”

Bussetti, from South Norwood, south-east London, said the effigy had been made by his friend Steve Bull.

The defendant added that he himself had featured in the tower model, sporting big ears which had earned him the nickname “Pluggy”, but it was not visible in the video as he had filmed the other side of the model.

Rejecting any suggestion that those in the model were meant to be the people who had died he said: “That’s the media and the TV putting their stuff to it that was totally wrong.”

Mr Stott put it to Bussetti that he had sent the footage to both groups because it was in keeping with the sort of “highly racist” content that had previously been shared within them.

Rejecting this, Bussetti said: “I found it funny because the people in the cardboard box were us. That’s just banter that’s going on.”

He said he receives “thousands” of images a week on WhatsApp and forwards some of them onto other people and groups without even looking at them.

Asked by Mr Stott if he was racist, Bussetti said: “No.”

He explained that he had “panicked” when he saw the footage go viral, and had deleted the video from one of the chat groups while deleting the other chat group entirely.

He said he had not mentioned to police during two interviews that the people in the tower were him and his friends because he was “scared” and “nervous”.

When he voluntarily attended a station two days after the bonfire he told officers the video was “sick” and “horrible” and had no purpose.