Thursday, 22 December 2011

Racial abuse update

There were developments yesterday in two of the cases I discussed six weeks ago.

First, John Terry is to face criminal charges detailed here:
On 23 October 2011 at Loftus Road Stadium, London W12, you used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated in accordance with section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Contrary to section 31 (1) (c) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998
 31 (1) (c) says "a person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 (harassment, alarm or distress) which is racially or religiously aggravated for the purposes of this section".  Section 28 defines "racially or religiously aggravated": I think it safe to assume that any case against Terry will have no problem satisfying that definition.  Section 5 of the POA says "A person is guilty of an offence if he...uses threatening, abusive or insulting words...within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby...It is a defence for the accused to prove that that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or...that his conduct was reasonable."

I confess that I overlooked in my earlier comment that section 5, unlike section 4A, does not require anyone actually to have been distressed.  It would be improper for me to speculate at this stage as to the outcome of the case, but I note that if convicted Terry faces a fine he would find trivial (a maximum of £2,500 if I read the scale correctly).  I cannot see how the public interest has been served by the police and CPS pursuing the case rather than allowed the FA to get on with its proceedings.

Meanwhile, the FA has shown how seriously it intends to take this sort of thing by banning Luis Suárez for eight matches and fining him £40,000.   The financial penalty imposed on Suárez, in whose case the police have shown no interest, is much heavier than the maximum fine faced by Terry, but even so it's the ban that will really hurt.  Suárez is paid about £4m a year by Liverpool, and they paid Ajax about the same per year again for his contract, so the value to the club of his services is of the order of £200,000 a game.  It's not surprising that the club is very disappointed by the penalty.

Reportedly Suárez admits to calling Patrice Evra either "negro" or "negrito", speaking in Spanish, where the words do not carry all the same overtones.  And there's an unclear allegation that Evra started it by referring in some way to Suárez's origins in South America.  I suspect that neither player could hold butter unmelted in his mouth for very long, and that this case is on the borderline between racial abuse that ought to be stamped out and playground tit-for-tat that ought to be left on the field.  It's possible that the FA has decided that a salutory ban reduced on appeal to a slap on the wrist is the way to send the required message - the FA statement emphasized that Suárez "has the right to appeal" and suspended the ban to give him the chance to do so: good luck to them sorting this out.

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