Race-hate victim sues 'The Sun' for harassment

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The Independent Online

The victim of a race-hate campaign is suing The Sun in a ground-breaking legal case that could make newspapersliable for harassment committed by their readers.

The victim of a race-hate campaign is suing The Sun in a ground-breaking legal case that could make newspapersliable for harassment committed by their readers.

Esther Thomas, who has worked for the City of London Police since 1994, received race-hate mail after The Sun published a series of articles in support of police officers who, Ms Thomas alleged, insulted a Somali woman seeking political asylum.

Two police sergeants were demoted to constables earlier this year after Ms Thomas told senior officers she had overheard them making "offensive remarks". A third police officer, a woman, was disciplined and fined £700.

In response to Ms Thomas's complaint, The Sun published a series of articles identifying her as a "black clerk" working at Bishopsgate police station. A separate article said that readers could help one of the officers by paying off her fine and asked them to send their donations to the newspaper's "WPC Fine Fund NGN [News Group Newspapers] Ltd". Lawyers acting for Ms Thomas claim the articles and the newspaper's conduct amounted to harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Lawrence Davies, Ms Thomas's lawyer and the manager of the London race discrimination unit, said the articles had made Ms Thomas "terrified and scared" to go to work. He added: "She felt vulnerable to being physically attacked at work and has since transferred, by her own choice, to a new place of work."

One of the articles was headlined "Beyond a joke" and said there was "fury as police sarges are busted after refugee jest".

In another article, The Sun said its readers were "furious" about what happened to the police officers and had written to express their views.

Ms Thomas said the officers, who were on duty at Bishopsgate police station, had been dealing with a claim for political asylum last year and suggested that the best way to deal with claimants was to shoot them. The comments were made out of earshot of a Somali woman who was at the police station to claim asylum.

Ms Thomas also claimed the officers did not want to drive the woman to the Croydon immigration centre in south London. One officer allegedly said: "She found her own way here from Somalia, can't she find her own way back?"

Both officers were found guilty of "behaving in a derisive and racially discriminatory manner".

Mr Davies said: "Newspapers that publish articles which are one-sided and which incite racial hostility should be brought to account. To pander to prejudice in our society, to the detriment of a vulnerable group in society, or person in this case, is irresponsible and offensive."

He said the Somali woman had not been seen since the police dropped her at Elephant and Castle in south London. "She is clearly a missing person, and yet as far as we know there is no missing persons file on her," he added.

In a letter to Ms Thomas, Tom Crone, The Sun's legal manager, said: "Having looked at the matters we do not accept that our coverage of the disciplinary proceedings brought against the two City of London police sergeants and the female police officer amounted toharassment."

He also rejected the allegation that The Sun's "July report" was inaccurate.