Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Judge:You can call someone a 'fat bastard' but don't be racist

A man who called a police surgeon a “f***ing Paki” was advised yesterday by a judge: “Next time call him a fat bastard and don’t say anything about his colour.”

The judge gave the unusual advice after describing the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the man for a racially aggravated offence as “a nonsense”.

Matthew Stiddard had been taken into custody by police officers who mistook him for a suspect in another case.

After two hours in a cell he demanded to see a doctor, complaining that his back hurt. But when Dr Imraan Jhetam arrived, Stiddart refused to be seen by him.

Exeter Crown Court heard that Stiddart, 36, swore and told him: “I want an English doctor, not a f***ing Paki.”

Stiddart had opted for the case to be heard at Crown court, where he admitted a charge of racially aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

Judge Paul Darlow told the court that the case should never have been brought and suggested that Dr Jhetam should have let the insults “roll off his back”.

The judge said: “I wonder what this is doing in the Crown Court. This was a single sentence to a man who should not have taken it so seriously. He is a man of some considerable standing in society and I cannot see that it caused him any distress or hurt.

“It should not have caused a problem in this case.

“To charge it in the first place rather than, say, let it go by with a caution strikes me as rather odd. We let people hit each other and break into people’s homes and they are not charged.”

Ann Reddrop, for the prosecution, said: “When there is a burglary and it is in the public interest there will be a prosecution. This was a police surgeon and he is entitled to the same protection as anyone else.”

Judge Darlow replied: “So next time call him a fat bastard and don’t say anything about his colour. When we have an overstretched police force and an overstretched CPS one wonders why we are sitting here with long faces dealing with one sentence.”

The judge said last night that his comments were “not intended to make light of racist remarks”.

He said: “Any reading of what was actually said in court would make it clear that the potential seriousness of what occurred was that a police surgeon was threatened with violence and non-racial abuse to the extent that he decided he needed to leave the cell to which he had been called. This amounted to an assault, but this was not the offence charged.

“A gratuitous single piece of racist abuse was uttered as the surgeon left. This was the charge on which the full weight of the law had been brought to bear. My comments were not intended to make light of racist remarks.

“I fully accept that in a circumstance and time they can be both offensive and distressing to those to whom they are addressed. When made by a drunk towards an obviously highly professional, educated and respected member of society in a position of clear authority over the defendant, I found it hard to conceive that it could be taken as seriously upsetting abuse.”

“It struck me as disproportionate to have brought this particular charge on its own to the Crown Court.”

The court heard that Stiddard was in a pub in Dawlish, south Devon, when police entered looking for someone else. He fitted the description of the wanted man and, after being confronted by police, became abusive and was arrested.

Stiddard fitted the description of the wanted man and was asked to step outside. He became abusive and aggressive and that led to his arrested for a public order offence.

Stiddard received a conditional discharge for two years and was ordered to pay £45 towards the prosecution costs of £150.

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality said last night: “It is a slightly unusual case and a difficult issue. We would need to look further into this before making any comment.

“The problem for us is we have to look at the Race Relations Act to look at the legal ramifications.”