Met policemen cleared of making racist comments

PC David Hair (left) and PC Kevin Hughes
Image caption PC David Hair (left) and PC Kevin Hughes denied making racist comments

Two Metropolitan Police officers have been cleared of making racially offensive comments.

PC Kevin Hughes, 36, and PC David Hair, 42, had denied using threatening words or behaviour and racially-aggravated harassment.

They were cleared at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

PC Kevin Hughes, of Brentwood, Essex, admitted saying a black man looked like a monkey but said he was discussing evolution.

PC Hair, of Epping, Essex, was accused of saying a black woman colleague might "go home to cook bananas".

'Freedom of speech'

Senior District Judge Howard Riddle said: "Whatever precisely PC Hughes said, it was unacceptable and offensive.

"There is simply no doubt that referring to black people as looking like monkeys is found to cause huge offence to most listeners.

"That does not necessarily mean it is a criminal offence.

"The comments were made within the confines of a police vehicle containing four police officers.

"There is no suggestion that the comment was overheard...there was no evidence of aggression, there was no threat.

"Freedom of speech is a cherished principle. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to be offensive - context is central.

"It is, of course, restrained in a number of ways - employers can require employees to avoid offensive language or lose their jobs.

"The civil courts can provide redress for harm caused."

Referring to PC Hair, the judge said: "While the insulting nature of the comment seems obvious to many, I believe it was not obvious at the time to PC Hair.

"A person is guilty of a Section 5 offence only if he understands his words to be threatening, abusive or insulting.

"Asking someone if they are going to cook bananas is not universally acknowledged as an insult.

"I bear in mind his consistent denials."

'Uncomfortable experience'

The judge praised the officers who gave evidence for the prosecution about the offensive words.

He said it was encouraging that they "were prepared to report what they had heard and to come to court to give evidence".

He added: "I would not be surprised if this was an uncomfortable experience for them.

"They should be reassured that despite the verdict in the case their actions are deeply reassuring.

"Finally there can be no doubt that the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] have taken these incidents and complaints very seriously indeed."

Both officers, who were in tears after the verdicts were returned, declined to comment.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites