Astrophel Sang, 19, was filmed using a lighter to try and set the flag on fire during protests
A photography student who tried to torch a Union Jack on the Cenotaph during a Black Lives Matter protest avoided jail today despite being accused of ‘disrespecting his ancestors’.
Astrophel Sang, 19, was filmed using a lighter to try and set the flag on fire during the anti-racism protests on Whitehall in London before being coaxed down by police and arrested.
Sang, from Highgate, Birmingham, twice tried to torch the flag after climbing the war memorial on June 7.
Video footage of what happened brought veterans to tears but Sang could not light the flag because it was made to anti-flammable EU standards.
An impact statement was read in court by the judge from an Asma Bibi, whose grandfather was in the Indian Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
She said: ‘The Cenotaph represents people of all colours and creeds who stood up to the Nazis. I feel this person disrespected his ancestors too.
‘Half the world came together to stand up against racism. It gives us all a space to remember the fallen and say a prayer to them and it breaks my heart that someone could do something so hateful and desecrate it.’
Sang admitted attempted arson at Southwark Crown Court over the incident on June 7 – and was given a two-year conditional discharge and told to pay £340 in costs.
He lives in one of a series of Grade II-listed cottages in Birmingham owned by a local housing association which offers a home and support for young homeless people.
Sang twice tried to torch the flag after climbing the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London in June
Shanice Mahmud, prosecuting, said: ‘Demonstrators were showing aggressive behaviour towards police and, as they reached the long side of the Cenotaph, missiles and bottles were being thrown at them.
‘The defendant was at the front of the group, and he was being hostile and aggressive. They could see he was aggressive, confrontational, and was swinging his arms.
‘The defendant had to be held back several times. Mr Sang decided to climb on top of the Cenotaph amongst the flags.
‘There were protesters encouraging him to stop what he was doing. He was hanging on the flags. At this stage Mr Sang had a lighter in his hand.’
Sang could not light the flag on June 7 because it was made to anti-flammable EU standards
Sang attempted to set the Union Jack alight but couldn’t because it was made to anti-flammable European Union standards.
‘Perhaps there is a certain irony there,’ quipped judge Christopher Hehir.
Sang then climbed halfway up the pole holding the flag causing it to swing before sliding back down on top of the plinth, the court heard.
As police officers tried to coax him down, Sang once again tried to burn the flag.
He was seen throwing a bag to a female friend before agreeing to come down if the police let her out of the cordon.
Sang lives in one of a series of Grade II-listed cottages in Birmingham (pictured) owned by a local housing association which offers a home and support for young homeless people
When officers tried to arrest him, he linked arms with her to resist before being finally apprehended. On arrest, he told officers: ‘I didn’t rip it, I tried to set fire to it.’
Judge Hehir read 12 victim impact statements from war veterans and civilians before passing sentence and said: ‘The inevitable starting point is to say he is sorry.’
Nathaniel Wade, defending Sang, said the teenager ‘wishes to apologise’.
He added: ‘The irony, perhaps, is that he doesn’t seek to tie anything he did to the cause of systemic prejudice.
‘It had nothing to do with it and the irony is that he recognises that he did damage to issues raised by the veterans and members of the public concerned with the commemoration of war dead but also the cause of addressing systemic prejudice.
Police officers surround the Cenotaph in Whitehall during Black Lives Matter protests in May
‘The irony is to set those two causes against each other when we heard from Ms Bibi that they’re aligned.’
The student had claimed that he ‘didn’t know’ the significance of the Cenotaph.
Judge Hehir told Sang: ‘In some countries, trying to set fire to the national flag while on top of a national war memorial would put you in very considerable peril or danger indeed.
‘You are fortunate to be a citizen in this country, in the UK. The committing of this offence in a liberal democracy where justice is administered impartially and fairly.
‘Most people have the good sense not to get worked up about flags. It’s a shame you chose to get worked up about flags.’
A protester lights a flare next to the Cenotaph during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 6
Judge Hehir acknowledged Sang’s actions caused ‘hurt’ to members of the armed forces and members of the public.
Sang attended court in black slacks and a button-down shirt and was supported in the public gallery by his partner.
The Whitehall monument was designed in 1919 by Sir Edwin Lutyens and commemorates those who died for Britain during the first World War.
It was later replaced by a permanent structure and designated the UK’s official war memorial.