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£125,000 fine for radio host's racist comments

A radio station has been fined £125,000 after a presenter made racist comments and joked about the death of the Iraq hostage Ken Bigley. It is the largest penalty imposed so far on a British radio station.

Listeners to Piccadilly Radio's Key 103, the commercial service based in Manchester, complained that comments, made by James Stannage, a presenter on late-night phone-ins, were offensive, racist, and incited racial hatred.

The broadcast watchdog Ofcom said the material was some of the most offensive it had heard. "In particular, the presenter's continual focus on race and religion, as forms of abuse, caused grave concern," it said.

Stannage was sacked this year over the comments, made in October and November last year. Piccadilly Radio said the broadcasts were "totally unacceptable". The jokes and comments about Mr Bigley were made two days after his death was confirmed.

Stannage made "highly abusive comments concerning Muslims and used a mock Asian accent", abusing callers' religion and mocking Islamic traditions. Stannage also criticised the TV personality Sharon Osbourne over her religion.

Piccadilly Radio, part of the Emap Radio Group, had been fined before because of comments made by Stannage. In May last year, it got into trouble because of his jokes in the aftermath of the death of Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay.

Ofcom said Piccadilly's failures to put in place more robust controls "were particularly serious" and there had been a "number of similar and serious issues with the same presenter on previous occasions".