Usually at this time of the year I’m busy at home compiling entrants for the Ronnie Hutton Memorial Prize, a prestigious award which goes to whatever police force has made the most fatuous arrest under the new and superfluous ‘race hate’ legislation. You may not remember, but Ronnie Hutton was the Scottish motorist who, several years ago, spent two days in prison and was fined £150 for the crime of ‘revving his car in a racist manner’. Mr Hutton revved his car in a busy street and two Muslim people took offence and that was it. I have to admit that I am not a fan of gratuitous car-revving and usually shout some sort of abuse, although obviously not racist abuse, when people do it near me. But it never occurs to me that the driver might be revving his car out of racial hatred.
Anyway, this is an important award and hotly contested by police forces up and down the country. This year, after sifting through the entries, I had decided it should go to Hampshire Police, for their salutary arrest of a pub singer called Simon Ledger who offered his audience a rendition of the old Carl Douglas hit ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, which the old bill decided could possibly be of offence to any Chinese people who might be listening, which they weren’t. I had the certificate made out and everything and now, at the last moment, have had a change of mind. Because I came across the remarkable case of Rhea Page and the chance to add a subtle twist to this year’s award.
Rhea was walking with her boyfriend through the centre of the fragrant and idyllic multicultural nirvana which is Leicester when she was the subject of an unprovoked attack from four young Somali women. She was thrown to the ground, had a large hunk of her hair ripped out and was repeatedly kicked in the stomach as she lay on the pavement. There was no reason offered for the attack: ‘I can only think that it was because I am white,’ Rhea suggested. But these four young women were not charged with a racially aggravated assault, which carries a stiffer penalty than just any old assault. If I punch you in the face, that is assault. However, if the police can suggest that I had some racial animus for punching you, rather than simply punching you because I think you are an idiot, then that would be taken much more seriously by the court.
But the Somali girls were not charged with a racially aggravated assault. Don’t forget, the new guidelines suggest that if someone believes they are the victim of racism then that belief should not be questioned; it should be accepted that they are a victim of racism. Unless they are Rhea Page. Nor is it the case that we have only Rhea’s suspicion that it was a racist assault — even though, as I say again, that should in itself be enough for the police, under their own guidelines. But no, there is additional evidence that this might just have been racially motivated — such as one of the young women screaming ‘Kill the white slag!’, an allegation which was not contested in court. And also another one of them shouting ‘White bitch!’ as she stuck the boot in.
Here’s a guess, and it is only a guess; if the boot had been on the other foot, to use an appropriate metaphor, and it had been a Somali girl getting her head kicked in by four white girls who shouted ‘Kill the black slag’ and ‘Black bitch’, the charge of racism would not have been remotely questioned. Indeed, even if no physical attack had taken place, I think the white girls would be in prison, simply for the racial verbal abuse. But these young women were not even charged with racially aggravated assault.
So what happened to the Somali women, then? Well, the judge was bloody stern with them, quite rightly. He told them, in the most serious of tones, that the whole business had ‘reflected badly’ upon them and that in normal circumstances people who behaved in the manner in which they had behaved would be facing a spell in prison. But not, as it happens, in their case. He suspended a six-month prison sentence on them because he seemed to accept the plea of mitigation that they had been drinking and that, as Muslims, they were unused to the pernicious effects of alcohol. This observation, incidentally, runs counter to what I have always been told pertains in court cases — that alcohol should never be considered a mitigating factor, that the imbibing of alcohol does not lessen guilt. But that, you might argue, is the least of it.
Rhea Page is not terribly happy about the outcome. ‘It’s no punishment at all and sends out a message that it’s okay to do that to someone. And for them to say they did it because they were not used to alcohol is not an excuse. If they were not supposed to be drinking then they shouldn’t have been out in bars at that time of night,’ she said. Well, indeed — and it is the sort of case which stokes up resentment generally as people notice that there is no such thing as equal treatment.
So, this year’s Ronnie Hutton Award is shared between Leicestershire Constabulary and Judge Robert Brown. I think the judge should have it for the first six months and then drop it off at the nick sometime in June. Just to be fair.