A PENSIONER racially abused a woman wearing a hijab, claiming she looked like a suicide bomber.

Retired Barbara Anne Blauvelt accosted the mother outside a doctor's surgery and, on a separate occasion, in front of a Sainsbury store before verbally abusing her, a court heard.

The 77-year-old of Pinewoods, Bexhill, was investigated by police over the abuse against Ritha Ahmed.

The magistrates' court in Eastbourne heard how Blauvelt had said to her: "Women in Britain don’t cover up. You should not cover up.

"If you are going to live in Britain, you should live by British rules. You look like you’re about to bomb the place."

Police interviewed Blauvelt following an incident outside the Sainsbury store in Buckhurst Place, Bexhill, at around 3.30pm on Monday, January 11, where the victim was verbally abused with reference to the hijab, a head covering that leaves the face visible. The victim was with two of her children at the time.

During the investigation the victim told police how Blauvelt had also approached her outside a local doctors’ surgery on September 29 last year and made similar remarks.

Blauvelt pleaded not guilty to two charges of religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

At the hearing on Thursday, April 21, Blauvelt was given a 12-month conditional discharge following conviction and ordered to pay £620 costs and a victim surcharge of £15.

Ritha Ahmed said: "I was born and brought up in Bexhill and I have never come across anything like this.

"I felt I needed to take this further to avoid further verbal abuse on women who choose to dress differently, regardless of whether it is a hijab or a habit.

"Everyone should be able to dress as they please and not have to face getting attacked by anyone.

"I am very proud of being a British citizen as we are a diverse country and, as the saying goes, 'The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of the people.'

"I would encourage victims of hate crime to come forward and report it to the police. You do not have to suffer in silence."

Sergeant Peter Allan, the force's hate crime sergeant, said: "I am pleased the court has convicted the defendant in this case. No-one should be targeted in such a personal and public way because of the way they dress.

"This sentence sends out a clear signal that we will take a robust approach to those who target individuals based on their disability, gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation."

Hate crime can be reported to Sussex Police by phoning 101 or, in an emergency, 999.

Hijab? Niqab? Burka?

The word hijab describes the act of covering up generally but is often used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in many styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.

The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.