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Newham police officers found not guilty of racism

PUBLISHED: 10:56 30 November 2012

PC Kevin Hughes, 36, from Brentwood, was found not guilty of making racist comments. Picture: PA Wire/Press Association Images

PC Kevin Hughes, 36, from Brentwood, was found not guilty of making racist comments. Picture: PA Wire/Press Association Images

PA Wire/Press Association Images

A Metropolitan Police officer who admitted comparing a black man to a monkey while out on patrol in Newham has been cleared of racially aggravated harassment.

PC Kevin Hughes, 36, of Brentwood, Essex was also found not guilty yesterday (Thurs Nov 29) at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of using threatening words or behaviour to cause alarm and distress,

His colleague, PC David Hair, 42, of Epping, was also cleared of both charges following a three-day trial.

The court heard PC Hughes say he made the comments on February 22 because he saw a black man with “elongated arms” and a “gait” like a monkey while out on patrol with three colleagues in Green Street.

But the officer, of Brentwood, Essex, said it was “upsetting” that anyone would think he was racist.

The man was black but Hughes said he only had a “fleeting glance” at him. But he admitted saying he used the word “chimpanzee” to describe him.

PC Hair, 42, was accused of allegedly telling, on March 13, a female black colleague, PC Julia Dacres, he thought she was going to “rant” about overtime and not do any because she was “going home to cook bananas”.

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

He said that “in these circumstances it did not amount to a criminal offence”.

Noting that “context is central”, Mr Riddle pointed out there had been no aggression or threat.

He said: “Freedom of speech is a cherished principle. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to be offensive.

“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.

“But when the state tells people what they can or cannot say, on pain of criminal sanction, the position is different. Citizens expect strong justification for curtailing freedom of expression. Offensiveness is not enough.”

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