A Moroccan man has been convicted of attacking a taxi driver after being asked to get out for alleged comments about Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
Solaimene Hayda, 32, was found guilty of assaulting Daniel McErlean and another passenger John Prior on the aborted journey to west Belfast.
A judge at the city’s Magistrates Court rejected counter-claims that Hayda was subjected to racial abuse and acted in self-defence.
The defendant, with an address at Donegal Street in Belfast, will be sentenced next month.
He was arrested after violence flared on the journey in May last year.
Hayda and his girlfriend at the time, Dolores Crothers, had been heading back to her home in the Andersonstown area following a night out at a city centre bar.
They were sharing Mr McErlean’s taxi with Mr Prior when the arrest of Mr Adams came up in conversation, the court heard.
At the time the Sinn Fein President had been detained and then subsequently released without charge by detectives investigating the IRA murder of Jean McConville.
It was claimed by the cab driver that Hayda swore and declared Mr Adams should be in prison.
He alleged that after stopping his vehicle the defendant got out an launched an attack on him, inflicting a black eye and facial bruising.
Under cross-examination Mr McErlean vehemently rejected claims by Hayda that he called him a “monkey”.
Defence counsel Sean O’Hare put it to him: “You attacked your customer, whether it was because he is Muslim, whether you thought he said something about Gerrty Adams, or whether it was because he was going out with a girl from west Belfast.”
But the witness replied: “You can’t be serious.”
He told the court he was the one left “bruised and battered”.
Mr McErlean added: “To rub salt in the wounds I held people back when he beat me, and now he’s calling me a racist.
“I haven’t fought since I was a child; my worst nightmare would be me fighting with a passenger and one of my children walking past and seeing it. What an example (to set).”
Hayda claimed the cab driver had asked for his views on Mr Adams.
He told District Judge Ken Nixon that he said something about the Sinn Fein leader going to prison, allegedly provoking Mr McErlean to reply: “What do you know about politics, you’re a foreigner?”
According to his account the driver stopped and said: “Get the f*** out of the car, monkey.”
As part of his self-defence case he claimed Mr McErlean also exited and came at him with keys clenched in his fist.
He attributed the lack of visible bruising on him to his darker skin colour.
In her evidence Ms Crothers backed his version of events, claiming the taxi was halted after she had inquired whether Mr Adams had been released.
“I just felt a terrible feeling of dread,” she told the court.
“I thought Solaimene was going to get kicked to death. I thought that was the night he was going to die.”
However, Mr Nixon convicted the defendant of both charges of common assault.
“There’s no credibility whatsoever in the defence case,” he said.
Hayda was released to return to court for sentencing in four weeks time.