Galliano blames drink and drugs problems for 'racist tirade' in bar

Fashion designer tells court he can 'hardly remember' incident that led to his dismissal from Dior

The disgraced British fashion designer John Galliano yesterday blamed overwork and a "triple addiction" to drink and pills for his alleged racist tirade in a bar in Paris in February. Appearing in public for the first time since his dismissal as head designer for Christian Dior, Mr Galliano, 50, told a Paris court that he could "hardly remember" his allegedly racist abuse of two customers on the terrace of the Perle bar on 24 February.

In a courtroom packed with journalists from around the world, the Gibraltar-born designer was accused of making "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity". If convicted, he could be jailed for six months and fined up to €22,500 (£20,000). After a seven-hour hearing, the three judges delayed a verdict and sentence until 8 September. The state prosecutor asked for a fine of "not less than €10,000" – but not a prison term.

"I have a triple addiction. I'm a recovering alcoholic and a recovering addict," said Mr Galliano, who was dressed – soberly by his standards – in a black velvet jacket, shiny black trousers and a polka-dot scarf. While admitting that he could not remember what he had said, he insisted that anti-Semitic or racist remarks would have been completely out of character. "All my life I have fought against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination," he said.

After the Paris court agreed to watch a video of another incident in the same bar in which he is seen saying "I love Hitler", Mr Galliano appeared to become upset. He said that the man in the film was "just a shell" of his real self. "On this video, I see someone who needs help," he told the court. "This man is not John Galliano. It's the shell of John Galliano, someone who has been pushed to the limit." Speaking in English, to a French interpreter, the fashion designer said that he had been under "huge pressure" since the death of his father in 2005 and the death of a "very dear friend" in 2007. Partly through the incessant demands of his work for Dior, he said that he had started to drink heavily and to take Valium and barbiturates.

"After every creative high, I would crash and the alcohol helped me," he said, pointing out that, in the process, he had "helped to make Dior a billion-dollar business". "It's only now that I have been going through a detoxication cure that I understand how deadly this mixture was," Mr Galliano said. "I would like to apologise for all the upset that this business has caused."

The court was told that Mr Galliano had started to abuse, for no apparent reason, two customers in the bar near his home in the Marais district of Paris.

Géraldine Bloch said that the designer had begun by criticising her boots and her hair and had used the word "Jewish" at least 30 times, including accusing her of having a "dirty Jewish face". Her friend, Philippe Virgitti, said that Mr Galliano had called him a "fucking Asian bastard". Ms Bloch is not Jewish and Mr Virgitti is not Asian.

Mr Galliano is also accused of calling another woman a "fucking ugly Jewish bitch" in the same bar the previous October. A video clip, sold to a British newspaper in February, appeared to show a third incident in the Perle bar in December. On the tape, taken on a mobile phone, a woman asks: "Are you blond, with blue eyes?" Mr Galliano replies: "No, but I love Hitler, and people like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would be... gassed and... dead."

French investigators have been unable to establish the circumstances in which this video was filmed. It is therefore not the subject of a separate charge, but the judges agreed yesterdaythat the footage should be shown in court and considered as part of the evidence against Mr Galliano.

This could be crucial. The fashion designer is accused of making "public racist insults" and his chance of acquittal depends largely on the word "public". His lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, argued that he could be convicted only if the allegedly racist words had been heard by a third party.

Mr Hamelle called as a witness a woman, named only as Marion Bully, an English teacher, who was in the Perle bar at the time. She said that she had heard the quarrel on but had never heard Mr Galliano use the word "Jewish". Another witness backed her up.

Ms Bloch said that initially she had no idea who Mr Galliano was. He sat down near to her in the bar and picked on her for no reason. He had started by criticising her hair and her skin and her "bottom-of-the-range boots" and ended by calling her a "whore".

"Jewish was one of the words he used most often," Ms Bloch told the court. "He used it at least 30 times. It was non-stop."

How his defence stacks up: Alcohol, valium and sleeping pills

John Galliano may have a defence to the charges against him if he can prove he was suffering from a serious addiction to drink and drugs and that the remarks he uttered were completely out of character, a leading British psychiatrist said yesterday.

Professor Tim Kendall, a spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that the Valium, the sleeping pills and the alcohol that Galliano claimed to be swallowing daily, taken together, would have effects similar to "drinking vast volumes of whisky."

"Doing that will have a disinhibiting effect. If he is really overdoing it then anything can happen. People in the grip of a serious addiction act in ways that are strange and unpredictable.

"A lot of people that are up to their neck in alcohol and other addictive drugs become different people. It probably does amount to a reasonable defence."

But Professor Kendall said the fashion designer would still have to prove that he did not mean what he had said, and that the alcohol and drugs had not merely created a state of mind that allowed him to express his true feelings.

"His defence team would have to show his remarks were genuinely out of character, not just what his friends say is out of character," Professor Kendall said.

Galliano has apologised unreservedly for his behaviour and has sought treatment for his addictions at a rehabilitation clinic in Arizona, US, which could help his case.

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