A Jewish accountant characterised by his barrister as “more Woody Allen than Arnold Schwarzenegger” walked free on Wednesday after being found not guilty of assault by a jury at Isleworth Crown Court.
David Buchler, 64, an insolvency practitioner who is a former vice-chairman of Tottenham Hotspur FC and a former director of the English National Opera, was involved in a verbal dispute which escalated, after a clash at the bakery counter of Harrods Food Hall on December 31, 2015.
Mr Buchler, who was buying a challah and two croissants, was accused of queue-jumping by fellow-shopper Rosaria Birrane. Matters got ugly after Mr Buchler believed either Mrs Birrane or her husband, James, had called him “a dirty Jew”, and sworn at him. He told the court that Mr Birrane had come up behind him on his blind side. Believing he was going to be physically attacked, Mr Buchler raised his free arm to defend himself and connected with Mr Birrane’s face — fracturing Mr Birrane’s nose in the process.
An angry Mrs Birrane called 999 and, in evidence she gave in court, maintained that Mr Buchler had “ruined [her husband’s] life” and that she would do whatever she could to achieve justice for him. Admitting she was running a “vendetta” against Mr Buchler, she lost her temper several times in giving evidence on Tuesday. On Wednesday, immediately before the jury gave their verdict, Judge Phillip Matthews warned her about reacting to their decision if they found in Mr Buchler’s favour — “because this could have consequences”.
Mr Goldberg told the court: “Of all the queues in all the department stores in all the world, Mrs Birrane had to come into Mr Buchler’s queue.”
Both Mr and Mrs Birrane completely denied having called Mr Buchler “a dirty Jew”, but Mrs Birrane went further, claiming that her mother-in-law was Jewish and that she would never have used such an epithet.
She later acknowledged that she had no direct information about her mother-in-law’s religion other than that she recalled a conversation in which the older woman had mentioned being told to “Go back to Palestine” when she was a child.
Jonathan Goldberg, QC, successfully applied to the judge to reveal to the jury the content of many of Mrs Birrane’s Facebook posts. She told him: “Oh, you’ve been on my Facebook. I don’t have anything to hide. Knock yourself out”.
But the jury were told that her Facebook page included questionable comments about Muslims and an article about a “Jewish conspiracy to take over the world”. Mr Goldberg suggested these articles indicated that Mrs Birrane was “an equal opportunity racist.” But she responded: by shouting: “Jewish conspiracy to take over the world? Oh, for f***’s sake. Do shut up.”
Another article re-posted by Mrs Birrane criticised the Rockefeller and Rothschild families, which Mr Goldberg said, “shows the classic conspiracy theory that Jews run the world, that Jews are running the financial markets, that the Jews are starting wars”.
In his summing-up for the jury Mr Goldberg repeatedly drew attention to inconsistencies in Mrs Birrane’s evidence, particularly her claim that Mr Buchler had not only sworn at her but at the Harrods counter assistant, Cecilia Price. Ms Price’s evidence was given by statement as she had had a family bereavement, but there was no mention of being verbally abused by Mr Buchler.
A large number of character witnesses gave statements in Mr Buchler’s favour, including Tottenham MP David Lemmy, former FA chairman Lord Triesman, former Spurs chair Paul Bobroff, and the retired Gibraltar Supreme court judge Barrington Black. All testified to Mr Buchler’s renown for keeping his temper rather than losing it, and for his calmness even in the most trying situations. None of them thought he was a man who would resort to physical violence. It fell to Judge Barrington Black, who knew Mr Buchler through their joint membership of Western Marble Arch Synagogue, to explain to the jury what a challah bread was and how it was the defining symbol of a Jewish Friday night meal.
Mr Buchler, who was once chairman of the UJIA’s business division, and served on its board together with his late wife Caroline, is a father of six who has homes in France and Israel. Speaking after the verdict, he told the JN: “There are no winners in a case such as this. I am truly grateful to the jury for seeing the truth and voting accordingly”.