Gazza pleads guilty to racially aggravated offence

Gazza pleads guilty to racially aggravated offence

Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne has been fined £1,000 for making a racist comment to a black security guard at a public event.

Dudley Magistrates' Court was told Gascoigne humiliated Errol Rowe, who had been assigned to protect him during his An Evening with Gazza show, by asking him: "Can you smile please, because I can't see you?"

Ordering Gascoigne to pay Mr Rowe £1,000 in compensation, District Judge Graham Wilkinson told the retired star: "You sought to get a laugh from an audience of over 1,000 people because of the colour of Mr Rowe's skin."

The judge told Gascoigne - who admitted a racially aggravated public order charge - that his previous convictions were not relevant to the offence, committed at Wolverhampton's Civic Hall last November.

Mr Wilkinson, who praised the Crown Prosecution Service for taking the case to court, said Gascoigne's comment was an example of "insidious" racism which needed to be challenged.

The judge told Gascoigne: "Mr Rowe was clearly humiliated on stage, as part of an act.

"As a society it is important that we challenge racially aggravated behaviour in all its forms.

"It is the creeping 'low-level' racism that society still needs to challenge. A message needs to be sent that in the 21st century society that we live in, such action, such words will not be tolerated.

"It is not acceptable to laugh words like this off as some form of joke."

Gascoigne, who lives in Dorset, had denied using "threatening, abusive or insulting" words or behaviour to cause racially-aggravated harassment, alarm or distress, but changed his plea to guilty at the start of a one-day trial.

The former Newcastle, Rangers, Everton and Tottenham midfielder entered his plea on the basis that he denied making an earlier comment to Mr Rowe in a dressing room, in which he was alleged to have said: "I didn't know my security had got a sun tan."

Opening the facts of the case, prosecution barrister Simon Davis said Mr Rowe - who has worked for several celebrities - was left shocked and "dazed" at Gascoigne's actions.

Mr Davis told the court: "On November 30 Mr Rowe was employed to provide close protection to Mr Gascoigne at the Civic Hall.

"He would be in a position where he would be putting himself in harm's way should the requirement develop.

"Clearly, there should have been mutual respect between Mr Gascoigne and Mr Rowe."

The court heard Gascoigne - whose show features a question-and-answer session and anecdotes about his career - was addressing the audience when he asked for a tissue and said words to the effect of "I can't tell if he's smiling or not".

According to one witness account, Gascoigne said: "You want to get to the front of the stage and smile so the audience can see you," as Mr Rowe maintained his professionalism in an area of the wings covered by shadow.

Gascoigne was spoken to by police about his comments on December 22 last year.

He told interviewing officers that he "hadn't gone out to offend anybody" but accepted with hindsight that his words had been offensive.

The star, who retired from football in 2005, told police: "Looking back now, obviously I have said the wrong thing. I apologise from the bottom of my heart and it will never happen again."

Defence lawyer Gavin Harris told the court the on-stage comment did not originate from malice, but from Gascoigne's upbringing in "a bygone age" when such comments were commonplace.

Ordering Gascoigne to pay a £100 victim surcharge and a £500 contribution to the cost of the prosecution, the judge hearing the case accepted that the "off-the-cuff" remark was made with little or no thought.

Passing sentence, District Judge Wilkinson told Gascoigne: "You are not a man of huge wealth. You have lived undoubtedly a rollercoaster life.

"I accept that you grew up in a different time. We live in the 21st century. Grow up and live in it or keep your mouth closed Mr Gascoigne."

Gascoigne, who appeared in the dock wearing a pin-striped suit and an open-necked shirt, made no comment to waiting reporters before driven away from court.

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