Man jailed over false racial abuse claims

A sales rep was jailed for 12 months today for "playing the race card" by falsely claiming a traffic warden had racially abused him and attacked him to avoid paying for a parking ticket.

Ben Hlal was also convicted of making another false allegation of racial abuse against a consultant doctor after he confronted the defendant for parking in a disabled bay outside a hospital.

Hlal, from Fareham, Hampshire, was found guilty of two charges of perverting the course of public justice and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for both offences to run concurrently.

His estranged wife, Diane Bateman, 52, from Gosport, was found guilty of one offence of perverting the course of justice after the jury found her guilty by providing a statement in support of Hlal.

Bateman, a caterer for an old people's home, was given a six-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, 100 hours community service and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Sentencing Hlal at Portsmouth Crown Court, Judge Roger Hetherington said: "This was a concerted and determined tactic employed by you on two separate occasions and pursued to the bitter end to make a deliberately false allegation against two wholly innocent men.

"Your motivation was partly self-interest to get yourself out of a situation where you were clearly wrong, and partly in anger that anyone should have the temerity to challenge you.

"You have deliberately played the race card knowing it would cause maximum embarrassment to those on the receiving end and would be treated seriously by the authorities.

"The seriousness of these offences lies not just in the distress and anxiety felt by the victims, but also in the fact it strikes at the root of public justice and undermines people's confidence in the system."

He added that Bateman had acted out of "misguided loyalty" to her ex-husband.

The trial heard that in the incident, which happened in November 2009, Hlal had parked on double yellow lines outside a supermarket in Fareham when he was approached by Andrew Lynch, a civic enforcement officer (CEO) from the local council.

Mr Lynch warned the 45-year-old, who was sitting in the grey Volvo car, that he was parked illegally and would issue him with a parking ticket if he did not move on.

But by the time he returned to the vehicle, Hlal, who is originally from Tunisia, had claimed to another CEO that he had been racially abused and assaulted by Mr Lynch.

Mr Lynch was later arrested and interrogated by police for three hours about the alleged incident and suspended from his job at Fareham Borough Council while the case was investigated.

He was only allowed back to work more than five weeks later after police decided there was no case to answer.

Louisa Bagley, prosecuting, said: "He (Mr Lynch) was an innocent man, albeit a traffic warden, and you may have your own views about those who issue parking tickets.

"Mr Hlal wanted to get around having to pay for that penalty ticket and hence made this allegation in order to avoiding paying for that ticket."

Mr Lynch told the court during the trial: "I went up to the vehicle and said to the driver that he needed to move.

"At this point he said to me that he was on the phone to the police and that I had assaulted him.

"He said that I had grabbed him around the face and had hit him against his headrest.

"I said 'No I haven't', I stepped back and went to issue a penalty charge notice."

Mr Lynch added: "I was suspended from patrolling, from doing my job, I thought I was going to lose my job."

The second charge against Hlal, a father-of-three, involved him making another false allegation that a consultant doctor had also racially abused him outside a hospital.

The court heard that Dr Neil Buchanan had approached Hlal when he had parked in a disabled bay without a blue badge outside the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Hlal went on to falsely accuse Dr Buchanan of racially assaulting him, leading to him also being arrested and questioned by police.

Inspector Dean Gower, of Hampshire Police, said after the hearing: "What Mr Hlal did was despicable and I hope he will reflect on the damage he did and the upset he caused to Mr Lynch and Dr Buchanan."

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