Should this racist thug be behind bars?

Dale Hart, a white man sitting on a white Vespa scooter, wearing a black cap and a white Adidas T-shirt and black shorts.A 29-year-old man who attacked a young boy because he thought he had bumped into his child’s buggy while running for a bus received a suspended sentence (twelve months, suspended for two years) at Bolton Crown Court last week. Dale Hart punched the boy and racially taunted him, telling him to “speak English” and calling him a “black c**t”. The boy’s mother, who intervened in the fracas, collapsed after boarding the bus with a potentially fatal bleed on the brain; she required emergency surgery and was in hospital for three weeks. His defence claimed that the attack was “racially aggravated, not racially motivated” and he has previous convictions for affray, a public order offence and being drunk and disorderly.

The judge gave him the suspended sentence clearly because he did not believe the attack was racist from the outset; if it had been, he would have received an immediate custodial sentence. I do not necessarily think this is a good reason, especially with someone with previous convictions for violent behaviour. It is only certain types of men who react with violence at such trivial slights, real or imagined: it is men who have been in a dominant position at school, at work, in the street and in the family and learned over the years that they can get away with it. Men who have not always been at the top of the pile and who had to learn to restrain their anger, or who were not brought up to behave in that fashion, don’t. At most they’ll shout “careful!” at someone who bumps into them or their baby buggy, shopping or whatever. As someone pointed out on Twitter, such people only have uncontrollable tempers when dealing with women and children; “the temper is manageable when the object of anger is an adult male”. I would add that these types will pick on men who are smaller than them and do not look tough.

In my experience society is too tolerant of men who abuse young boys. There is a perception that boys that age need ‘discipline’ and need to learn that they cannot “mouth off”. This was a common excuse for violence when I was at school and a few years ago I read a story in which it was used as an excuse by police not to arrest a man for assaulting a teenage boy: a man in his 50s crashed into a car carrying a 16-year-old boy and his mother in Kent, and this led to an argument which ended with the man punching the boy in the face. Police declined to do more than caution the man because “you can’t give ‘verbal’ and expect nothing in return” and, it seems, because they did not want the hassle of taking him to court.

I don’t know whether this man attacked the young boy specifically because he was Black or because he was the sort of man who would attack someone smaller than him over a trivial slight, and he used racial abuse because he was also racist. Or to put it another way, was he a racist who is also a thug, or a thug who is also a racist? Does it matter? I’ve known men who would treat anyone like this and would also use racial abuse if the situation gave him the opportunity, and if years of being taught that you can do this are what led to this, then he needs to be taught that he cannot. Would a suspended sentence — in which he is told that if he does this again in the next two years, he will go to prison for this crime and his next one — and community service achieve that? However, the court clearly did not have evidence that he had behaved this way routinely throughout his adult life, or his record would have shown it. A single punch to the face can kill a man or put him in a coma and this boy’s mother suffered a bleed to the brain and needed surgery, but to put someone in prison for that, a link to his actions needs to be proven and clearly that could not be done.

People on Twitter have been asking that people contact the Attorney General’s office to ask for this sentence to be reviewed, which anyone can do, whether or not they are connected to the case (see this page). A lot of people think this is extremely unfair, that a racist attacked a Black child and his mother and “got away with it”, but courts always have to take the finer details of the case into account and however unjust this seems to some people, they cannot hold this man responsible for the behaviour of every racist. Perhaps having to restrain his temper because of the threat of prison hanging over him for a couple of years will teach him more than spending six months to a year actually in prison where perhaps he might be at or near the top of the pile and in any case will not be required to attend behaviour-related courses (or have access to them) as a short-sentence prisoner. There may simply not be room and judges may be restricting custodial sentences to prevent overcrowding. But men like this are a threat to everyone and we need to change our culture so that nobody grows up thinking that other people owe them ‘respect’ they do not in fact deserve and can ‘punish’ anyone who gets in their way, and nobody is expected to tiptoe or tread on eggshells around this type of person.

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