Racist football chant ruled a criminal offence

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The Independent Online

Football fans who join in racist chanting are committing a criminal offence and will be punished by the courts, the High Court ruled yesterday.

In the first case of its kind, a Port Vale fan who took part in a chant describing Oldham as a "town full of Pakis" was told that his language was racially offensive contrary to the 1991 Football (Offences) Act.

The ruling could stop all chanting that includes derogatory references about other nations, leading to a ban on songs about "frogs" or "krauts".

Sean Ratcliffe, 21, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staff-ordshire, had been among a group of about 70supporters who had taken up the chant of "You're just a town full of Pakis" directed at Oldham Athletic fans in a league match at the Port Vale ground in Stoke-on-Trent in October last year. Lord Justice Auld, sitting with Mr Justice Goldring, ruled that there was no doubt the word "Paki" was "a slang expression which is racially offensive".

It was not like words referring to nationality, such as Aussie or Brit, which could be used affectionately. The judge said: "It is odd and a shame that this is so in this country, but the unpleasant context in which it is so often used has left it with a derogatory or insulting, racialist connotation."

The judges overturned a decision at Stoke-on-Trent magistrates' court acquitting Ratcliffe on the basis that the chant was "mere doggerel" and not offensive.

Edward Coke, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told the judges Ratcliffe did not understand why he had been singled out and asked whether all the mothers and children who had been chanting would be locked up. But Ratcliffe did admit that he knew the chant was wrong, saying: "It's racist, innit?" The case was sent back to the magistrates' court for him to be convicted.