Saturday, July 14, 2012

he said it first

It was over the top. A trial, adjourned for five months, lasting five days with dozens of witnesses for a straightforward racially aggravated Section 5 Public Order offence, was extravagant.  

Magistrates courts are now under a duty to keep adjournments to a minimum, list trials for as short a duration as possible, and restrict the number of witnesses to only those that are essential to the case, eliminating the repetition of identical  evidence. These parameters are part of an initiative called Stop Delaying Justice, instigated by, amongst others, the District Judge who presided over this case and who, almost immediately after all magistrates and court advocates had been trained in its principles, adjourned the case for five months, set it down for five days and allowed a stream of footballers and coaches to give, seemingly much the same, evidence.

Anybody with an internet connection can see a video of Terry shouting out “you f**king black c**t”. To be guilty of the offence charged, the words must be threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby, and they must demonstrate hostility towards a racial group.  Well the words are hardly complimentary, could well cause distress and if they don’t reflect a hostility towards a racial group then what do they reflect ?  What phrase, worse than the one he used, would indicate hostility ?

The defence, which the DJ accepted, was that Terry was just repeating the words. The verdict stated  that “what he said was  not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.”  Said to him ?  Terry was being called “a f**king black c**t” ? I’m confused and so will be many footballers (amateur and professional) who will deduce that such language on the pitch is acceptable if there is any kind of provocation or doubt as to the reason for the words. But ref I was just repeating what someone said to me !

I wasn’t in court and it is well known that the reporting of cases can give a misleading account of the evidence presented. The highly experienced DJ would have considered everything very carefully and if there was any doubt in his mind, which there clearly was, then acquittal was the right decision. That is how it should be and I don’t dispute the finding, despite the force of the video evidence and the undisputed fact that Terry did use those words.

But the verdict in this protracted case doesn't really matter. What he said has been publicised and publicly denounced, with many exceptions of course. It has now been established in a high profile case that there are situations in which shouting “you f**king black c**t” is perfectly legal, but nevertheless is surely exceptionally nasty and disrespectful. 

It is for that reason, not the legality or otherwise, that the phrase shouldn’t have been uttered in front of anyone, let alone tens of thousands of people and TV cameras. And it is for that reason that we should condemn the use of those words or words like them.

Obscene and distasteful swearing is epidemic in this country, where the most commonly used adjective begins with the letter f. It should not be too much to expect professional footballers to set some kind of example by avoiding that kind of language in public, but it is too much to expect.  The quality of spoken English here, driven by nastiness, disrespect, selfishness, laziness and the lack of any better vocabulary, is steadily deteriorating and things will get worse, much worse.

And if the question is whether or not Terry's behaviour was exceptionally nasty and disrespectful, and reflective of his character, then the verdict is clear and unequivocal.