John Terry-justice done?   Leave a comment

I think the decision to prosecute John Terry for saying “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand was the correct one.  I also feel that the decision of the Chief Magistrate to acquit was the right one.  The case is significant for society and football but it also leaves the FA in a quandary.

Essentially we had the England football Captain accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words within the hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and those words were racist.  This is actually a comparatively minor summary offence that can only be heard in a Magistrates Court and for which the penalty is a fine that any Premier League footballer could pay out of his petty cash.

However we could all see that a conviction for using racist abuse could be a taint that would kill a career, particularly at international level.  In an age where progress is being made by projects such as “Kick it Out” to be labelled a racist is a very serious issue.  That said, this was not a case to determine whether John Terry is a racist.  Just as in the Suárez civil case before the FA, the question was whether the player uttered abuse that had a racist element rather than whether that player was a racist.  The Judge in Terry’s case pointed out that all the character witnesses showing Terry’s inclusive nature were irrelevant to the substance of the case; it wasn’t a question of being a racist just using racist abuse.

As a summary matter this case could not go to the Crown Court and play in front of a jury.  For all we treasure the trial by jury as a significant part of our justice it is good to see a senior Justice at work.  In the Magistrates Court a District Judge can sit in the place of a bench of lay magistrates.  In this case it was a Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle.  Judge Riddle was able to carefully explain his thinking in finding John Terry not guilty.

As I read Judge Riddle’s judgement he was certain that the CPS was right to bring the prosecution; John Terry had a case to answer.  There was no doubt that Terry had said, among other confirmed abuse, “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand.   He found Ferdinand and Terry to be good witnesses but there was confusion over the context in which Terry has said the “offensive” phrase.  Terry stated at the time that he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying it and so had repeated the phrase back to him to highlight how ridiculous it would be for him to say that. He maintained this account throughout.

The exchange was part of a cycle of tit-for-tat abuse between the two players.  Most of the exchange, that the players couldn’t remember in detail, seemed to involve remarks about Terry’s sexual improprieties.   From a football perspective it is telling that the remark that ended up in court seems to be just an element of a “slanging match” that was part of a game of professional football.  In an age when football authorities are campaigning for respect on the football field this is telling.

John Terry isn’t a racist.  Although the Judge questioned his explanation of his uttering the offensive phrase, there was enough doubt to find that he had not committed a criminal offence.  However Ferdinand and Terry were involved in outbursts on a football pitch that have no place in the modern game.  There is still racism in our society and our national game but every reasonable person knows it is irrational.  The work done to combat this bigotry in and out of the game is why this case could be brought to court.

The admitted abusive exchanges between professional footballers shows that we have a long way to go in terms of the Respect Programme. As someone who has gone into classrooms to sell the principles of fair play and respect in sport and so in general life, it is galling to see the message trashed by those appearing regularly on the children’s televisions.

The FA suspended its investigation when the CPS suggested that there might be criminal action.  An acquittal in a criminal case where the test is one of reasonable doubt doesn’t mean a test on the balance of probabilities for a similar matter cannot succeed.  I expect that the FA will have to consider both the  “racial” of what John Terry said and the wider question of the two players’ exchanges on the pitch at Loftus Road.

It might be argued that there is sufficient evidence to find John Terry of at least bringing the game in to disrepute.  Anton Ferdinand was the victim in the criminal case but also seems to have a case to answer when we are looking at fair play in our national game.  It will be interesting to see how the FA takes this forward.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: