A London Magistrate's Court has acquitted England's former football captain, John Terry, of race vilification. Accused of having called rival Queens Park Rangers (QPR) player Anton Ferdinand a 'f…… black c…' in a game where Terry's team Chelsea challenged QPR, Terry's defence was that he had not committed a racially aggravated public order offence, because he 'was sarcastically repeating words he believed' Ferdinand had spoken to him.
Having found Terry had a case to answer, the Chief Magistrate presided over a five-day trial where the case for the prosecution was that the words did not constitute '"banter" on the football pitch' so the allegation 'should be judged by a court'. Following the acquittal, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was quoted as saying 'justice had been done' and the CPS 'respect[ed] the … decision'.
United Kingdomlaws define 'racially aggravated offences' as those in which the offender 'shows or is driven by racial hostility', covering offences where:
- at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates hostility towards the victim base don the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group; or
- the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial group based on their membership of that group.
Assaults, criminal damage and harassment can be 'racially aggravated' so long as the elements are proven, as can public order offences, including:
- fear or provocation of violence;
- intentional harassment, alarm or distress; or
- harassment, alarm or distress.
Responsibility lies with police to inform the CPS if there 'appears to be' racial aggravation, whilst the CPS role is to 'make sure that the racial or religious element of the offence is taken into account appropriately'. This means bringing a racially aggravated charge as an alternative to the basic charge, or together with the basic charge. Proof beyond reasonable doubt results in a heavier sentence, with the court's being obligated to state openly that the offence was 'racially aggravated'. The maximum penalty is higher than the penalty for the basic offence.
Does this have resonance for Australia?
Australian footballers have been accused of racial vilification on the field, cases gaining widespread publicity. Back in March 2002, following one nationally reported incident, a 'code of conduct' governing language on the field was introduced. This was a laudable step, yet it focuses on 'race' and 'racist' comments, when the language used – and in constant use, as it appears - was the common football field expression 'black c…' Thus in Australia, as in the Terry case, the resounding silence is remarkable.
Silence surrounds the one word in the terminology that is invariably represented by its first initial – the great silence of the 'C' word. This, despite the fact that, according to Terry, in his 'repeating to Ferdinand' words 'he thought the opposing player had said to him', the exchange involved 'normal football verbals'.
As with Australian media in such instances, in the lead-up to the Terry verdict newspaper coverage consistently spelled out the word 'black', equally often declining to refer, in full, to the immediately following word, cunt. Thus, on 11 July 2012 The Times had Terry saying he 'knew he was innocent' in having been 'accused of calling Anton Ferdinand a "fblack c" during a Premier League game …'.
More extensively, the Independent on 12 July 2012 reported:
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She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.