Paul Gascoigne pleads guilty to ‘racial abuse’

Paul Gascoigne pleads guilty to ‘racial abuse’



Back in June of this year (2016) we looked at the case of Paul Gascogine, the ex-English footballer, when he was charged with racially aggravated s5.

On 19th September 2016, it was publicised that Mr Gascoigne had pleaded guilty to ‘racially aggravated abuse‘. This related to a comment that he made during a show at Wolverhampton on 30th November 2015.


What was said?


Mr Gascoigne said to Errol Rowe, a black security guard in the venue, “can you smile please, because I can’t see you?“.


What’s the law?

Assuming that the offence is racially aggravated s5 (which seems to be the case) – this is the ‘normal’ s5 offence – namely, that a person is guilty of an offence if he—

uses threatening or abusive words… within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby“.

But one that is ‘racially aggravated’ for the purposes of s31 Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

This states that :

 An offence is racially aggravated if  … —

(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group; or

(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial group] based on their membership of that group.

(2) In subsection (1)(a) above—

  • membership”, in relation to a racial … group includes association with members of that group;

  • presumed” means presumed by the offender.

(3)It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) above whether or not the offender’s hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph. 

In addition, it would have been accepted that Mr Gascoigne intended that “his words… be threatening or abusive … or is aware that it may be threatening or abusive“.




The offence is non-imprisonable – Mr Gascoigne could not be sent to prison – he face a financial penalty only.

The Judge said “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”.

Although because there was a guilty plea, the question of the guilt or otherwise of Mr Gascoigne was not something that was up for consideration, it seems that the Judge ‘praised’ the CP for bringing it to Court.

Mr Gascoigne was sentenced to a £1,000 fine, with an order for compensation to Mr Rowe of £1,000 as well.


Is it a sensible prosecution?

There was some comment when Mr Gascoigne was charged, with a fair amount of ‘raised eyebrows’ as to whether a charge was really in the public interest.

It is hard to disagree with what the Judge said in sentencing, although assuming that it is not a contravention of Art 10 to prosecute in these circumstances, I certainly have doubts as to whether a prosecution here was needed.

Over to you to discuss …

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. The words used are clearly racially aggravated, but I doubt they are either threatening or abusive. It’s a shame Mr Gascoigne plead guilty.

  2. Is there a particular reason why he gets a judge and not magistrates? It would be nice to be given the choice.

    • The increasing tendency of HMCTS listing officers to put anything ‘celebrity’ in front of a DJ (MC) rather than a bench of three. Nobody should ever be ‘judge, jury and executioner’ and if there is a case for a legally qualified magistrate, they ought to be with two other ‘lay’ mags.

      Every time there is a proposal to reduce the scope of juries in trials there is an outcry, but the use of DJ(MC)s isn’t questioned.

  3. As with the Twitter Joke Trial, if the offence extends to comedy routines, would John Cleese be prevented from performing The Germans (“I’m trying to cheer her up you stupid Kraut”)? What about Life of Brian (“Stop hanging around that Welsh tart”)? To declare the words themselves criminal, you have to get into highly subjective opinions about artistic merit or value, which inevitably confuses the question of whether you approve of something with whether it’s a criminal act.

    • When does something stop being a joke and become offensive acting as an incitement to others to do the same & worse and who gets to determine this, The Joker(s), the privileged or those that live with the dehumanising effects of racism, for example, disguised as jokes.

      • Something can still be a joke, as well as being “offensive acting as an incitement to others to do the same & worse”.

        I think it should be decided by us, as a society, which is why this sort of thing should go in front of jury.

        • I wonder then why some of the above commentators act as though words are not powerful when we all know this is not the case.

  4. I don’t know. But whilst words may be powerful, it doesn’t mean that they should be criminalised.

    He pleaded guilty, so that is that, but I can see that there is an element of scepticism that what he said was intended to be ‘threatening or abusive’ or that he was aware that it would be, or that there was, in the normal meaning of the word, hostility.

    Although compensation is means tested, so this isn’t actually a point, the compensation ordered was the same as the CICA would give for some sexual assaults which I can understand raised eyebrows in some quarters.

  5. It sort of rules out any kind of jokes or comedy because, for the most part, all jokes involve a subject or ‘victim’.

  6. I have my doubts about this prosecution for all the reasons that others have stated. CPS going after the celebs again in reality. Jokes have been told throughout the ages and have come at the expense of all races, religions, colours and supposed cultural traits. Shall we ban Shakespeare? They say offence cannot be given it can only be taken, and we live in an age where certain people are professional offence takers. The age of the comedian is dead, we now have to put up with the “right on” crowd which the BBC foisted onto our screens 30 years ago with the anti Thatcher mob….so funny….err…not. I watched Live from Apollo a few months ago and if this is now what’s classified as comedy it must be some kind of perverse punishment inflicted on society.

    • Comedy is a very subjective thing. The age of the comedian is far from dead judging by the stadia filled by audiences. Plenty of comics don’t feel the need to do others down in search of laughs.

      And don’t bash the Beeb, particularly since Channel 4 were responsible for first bringing alternative comedy to our screen – thankfully. IIRC BBC1 was still giving us Terry & June et al.

  7. Unfunny joke in my view, but should never have been treated as a criminal matter.

    A bit of showboating from the judge methinks, and I did smile when I saw a member of the judiciary talking about the “21st century” without a trace of irony.