Patois-Speaker Is Spared Prison

Lewis Smith, Times (London), Jan. 17, 2006

A black man escaped a possible jail sentence yesterday after claiming that swearing and using racist insults were part of his cultural identity.

Robin Sterling claimed that his use of offensive language, including racist gibes, was part of a Jamaican patois.

Magistrates warned him to comply with accepted British cultural norms after being told how Sterling described a policeman as “white trash” and a lawyer as “white pussy” after he was arrested for an incident in a Gloucester pub.

His lawyer, Sudha Nair, pleaded with the court to spare Sterling from jail and said that he had not intended any harm with his words.

“He uses patois and common swear words in place of polite addresses,” she told Gloucester Magistrates’ Court. “His language is part of a separate cultural identity and not intended to cause any harm.”

Sterling, now living in London, was convicted of two charges of racial harassment and one of assaulting a policeman. He was ordered to do 240 hours of community service and pay costs and £100 compensation to the policeman.

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