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LondonlawyerJ, Advocate
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 823
Experience:  Solicitor with over 15 years experience.
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I am a 60 year old newsagent who telehoned Parcel Force to

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I am a 60 year old newsagent who telehoned Parcel Force to arrange collection of Camelot scratchcards. Unfortunately the member of staff I spoke with at Parcel Force (who had no discernable accent) took the call in what can only be described as a nonchalant manner. I tried to give him my postcode two or three times and on all three occasions he failed to grasp alphabetic characters. Not being up to speed with the phonetic alphabet I told him 'N for nitro' twice and he kept saying 'M for Michael'. In frustration I said 'N for ni**er' as it was the first word that came to mind that cannot be misheard. The membe of staff then became verbally aggressive, said he was offended and threatened to come to my shop. I told him I would call back and speak to a different person as I didn't want confrontation first thing in the morning. He called me back a few minutes later to verify my address and said he was going to report me for for racial abuse as he was black. I told him his colour was not an issue as all I was trying to do was return scratch cards and enable him to get the postcode correct.

As far as I am concerned I did not know I was speaking to a coloured person and I do not consider I was abusive towards him. I do however accept that what I said was perhaps not wholly approprite. Plesae can you advise if you consider he has a case against me in this PC driven world and if he does what sort of penalties could be imposed.

LondonlawyerJ :

Hello, I am a solicitor with over 15 years experience. I will try to help you with this.

LondonlawyerJ :

Can u just tell me when this conversation took place. Are you worried that you might be arrested? A, I right in thinking you run your own business so there are no employment issues to be worried about.

LondonlawyerJ :

There are racially aggravated offences in criminal law but they are variations on offences that exist in a racially aggravated form.

S4A of the Public Order Act 1986 deals with intentionally causing harassment alarm and distress

“(1)A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—

(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or….”

So your use of language could be fit within this but the Crown would need to prove you were intending to cause harassment alarm or distress to a specific person. That will be difficult. The fact that the person at the other end of the phone was black could be a problem but your assertion that you did not know this would amount to a defence.

Another possible section is s5 of the same act. A person commits an offence if he

“(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, …..,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby…”

It is a defence for the person accused to prove that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

So you have a defence to this offence as well in that you did not know there was any person likely to be caused harassment alarm or distress. It is possible to argue that using that language is capable of causing distress to anyone regardless of their ethnicity and if the court took that view then you could be convicted.

It may seem ridiculous to you but the law can intervene in the use of this sort of language. In the way you describe it being used. You have a clear defence to any allegation under s4A of the Act and a less sure one under S5. This applies to the racially aggravated version of the offences as well.

However this is such a minor incident that even if reported the police may be reluctant to devote resources to it.

In other words technically you could be in some trouble but in reality you would need to be unlucky to be prosecuted in these circumstances.

If you are questioned by the police you have a right to free legal advice from a solicitor and it would be sensible to use that right.

I hope this answer has been useful but please do not hesitate to ask follow up questions.

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