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A Racially Aggravated Public Order Offence - Really?


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Lest we lose sight of the charge against John Terry altogether, amidst all the vitriol surrounding it, I thought it might be a good idea to remind everyone of exactly what they should be either abhorrent or dismissive of. So there it is, in the title of this topic, for all to see and ponder on, and immediately the urgent need to find a correct starting point for the forthcoming proceedings becomes clear. The criminal element that separates JT’s alleged misdemeanour from that of Luiz Suarez doesn’t kick-in on the pitch, it stems from an as yet unknown person’s trip to a local police station nearby the ground and the registering of a complaint that the player ‘used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated in accordance with [whatever the section is] of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998’ and, of course as a consequence, contrary to another section of it.

As good a starting point as any? I think it is, so let’s hope the Magistrates Court does too because it will cut right through an awful lot of the emotive claptrap we’ve heard to date and get straight to the heart of the matter - who was offended by what was said and whether the level of it, for he or she, fell within the ambit of the Act. There is no denying that this is a critical plank of the Crown Prosecution Service’s case, for it is the only thing that prevents action from being taken against Suarez as well. Indeed, Merseyside police have already confirmed that the FA’s judgement will not lead to a similar criminal investigation, as no complaint has been made and Evra has made no representation about the incident himself. Whether hordes of Everton supporters could still traipse into their local cop shop and complain at this late stage isn’t clear, but, as far as I’m aware, retrospective effrontery knows no bounds and [don’t we just know it] nowadays there need be only one swallower in horror to make a summer-full of headlines and [potentially] ruin someone’s career.

With all this in mind, it is difficult to see how the Magistrates Court soon to be in the spotlight avoids raking over the embers of this private individual’s ’harassment, alarm, or distress’, if only to test for genuine heat and legitimacy, especially when the forerunner to any visit to You Tube is usually anticipation of something being there that you want to see and therefore you must have some knowledge of it in the first place. Fair play to him/her if there was a sudden stumbling over the offensive material, but surely some indication of the train of events is necessary to see how we chugged into that particular station and thereafter moved on so swiftly to another containing policemen. In short, this type of forensic research is surely owed to the defendant when he stands to lose the princely sum of £2500 (which in itself signals the seriousness of the situation) should there be any degree of complacency on the court‘s part.

Once the source of this action has been recognised and verified as bona fide, honest-to-goodness affront the litigation can proceed safe in the knowledge that there is a genuine case to answer. Then (and only then) moving on to such matters as burden of proof, reasonable doubt and anything else that might have a bearing on why the taxpayers money is being spent in this way. Incidentally, we are told, according to CPS guidelines, that racially aggravated offences attract a higher penalty than those without a racial element. Too right, when we’re talking about the pound in the taxpayers pocket, although it is heartening to learn direct from a CPS mouthpiece that here ’there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute the case’, so I for one am confident that, when JT’s found guilty, his fine will cover everything related to the case without the need to dip into the Public Purse. However, whether the same can be said of future copycat instances remains to be seen, but for now I’ll call on none other that then Telegraph’s newly-recruited Paul Hayward to end this preface to court action with the following prophesy (plus a couple of my own insertions)…

“We can say with impunity though that on-field culture has been changed forever over 18 hours in the season of goodwill. At the very least players now know that fans have a new tool when they think they have observed potentially criminal behaviour on the field: the complaint to the police, which some may now use mischievously [as in this case?] against teams or individuals they happen to hate.

On Saturday afternoons special lines may need to be created in police stations for replica-shirted complainants alleging a violent assault or a breach of the race relations laws. This is not to trivialise the complaint against Terry or mock its author [but it has done so rather well, don’t you think?] but merely to highlight the extra scrutiny it could bring.â€

Couldn’t have put the ridiculousness of JT’s situation better myself, Paul, albeit that it wasn’t your intention. Yet the outcome doesn’t have to be like this, nor do we need to witness the world going mad in this way, because the Law of the Land is not an ass all of the time and an opportunity still exists in this forthcoming Magistrates Court to start as the country should mean to finish [with all this faux effrontery rubbish] by dealing with it at its source and laughing it out of court before the whole business gets totally out of hand.

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Without some sh!t-stirring YouTube warriors and some malevolent anti-JT complainant, there would be no case. We know that. But, as I wrote on the Terry thread, the 'public interest' lies in the idea that you can't use a 'racially aggravated' insult in a public place, even if there is no obvious target/ recipient within earshot. I couldn't stand in the middle of the market place and yell abuse about Muslims/ Irish/ Scots/ French people, even if there were no Muslims/ Irish/ Scots or french people around to hear it and complain - free speech does not extend that far, and I'd be done for a racially aggravated public order offence.

We all hope that JT's defence stands up to scrutiny, that he'll be cleared and that he will have his reputation restored (only joking about the last bit. The media have already given him a reputation to last a lifetime). Without a court case, he's already been condemned and found guilty in the eyes of the media and the public. He's a racist who uses racist abuse and has form for doing it against Ledley King, and if Suarez has got 8 games, Terry should get a life ban etc. etc. This case may be a witch hunt, but it could yet work in Terry's favour.

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I'm still waiting, as are we all, to find out how an incident in the 85th minute of a football match was saved, converted, edited, uploaded onto Youtube AND the Press Association notified, all before the match had actually ended. Surely one would need the technical resources available to, oh, I don't know, a multi-national broadcasting corporation with rights to broadcast Premier League football to be able to do all that?

And the we have the anonymous complainant to bear in mind. Could it possibly be someone related to, oh, again, I don't know, a multi-national news corporation with a vested interest in creating "news" and a close business relationship with a broadcaster?

And, finally, I am confused over why this particular piece of footage from a televised match was not hounded from Youtube almost immediately under their strict adherence to the laws of copyright, that footage being obviously the intellectual property of Sky Sports, in the same way as most clips from televised matches is removed. (Obviously, I use the term "intellectual" in the very loosest sense of the word.

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