Ringtone race row lands fan in a cell

The Star | September 7, 2010

MOVIE fan Martin Smith landed in court on a racism charge after he downloaded part of the soundtrack from the 1980s comedy film Rita, Sue and Bob Too! and installed it as a ringtone on his mobile.
Martin, of Holmewood, north Derbyshire, claims friends and workmates got used to hearing the voice of an Asian actor reciting the words "I can't help being a Paki…".

But a woman from a mixed race family wasn't amused when Martin's Nokia went off as she queued alongside him at a village shop.

Over-hearing the clip from the movie – which chronicles the exploits of two schoolgirls growing up on a rundown estate in Bradford – the woman went home and lodged a formal complaint with the police.

Officers arrested the 36-year-old at home two days later and locked him in the cells at Chesterfield for four hours before charging him with contravening race relation laws.

Angry warehouseman Martin hit out after magistrates fined him £191 with £85 costs for using racially aggravated threatening or insulting words or behaviour.

He said: "Arresting me was a total over-reaction - surely the police have better things to do with their time.

"If Channel 4 can put Rita, Sue and Bob Too! on TV all the time, as it does, then why can't I play a clip from the soundtrack on my phone?

"If it's good enough for prime time Tv then it ought to be good enough for me and my mobile.

"My ringtone wouldn't have suited everybody, but the film's my all time favourite. I've seen it 15 or 20 times and I should be able to download what I want without the police hauling me off to the cells and calling me a racist.

"I've had the ringtone for a year and nobody's ever complained. All my friends and workmates thought it was hilarious.

"I've got a lot of Asian friends, who've seen the film and they thought it was really funny as well.

"I wouldn't have minded if the police had taken me to the station and told me to get it changed.

"I get on really well with Asian people and the last thing I wanted to do was upset anyone. I just did it for a bit of fun because I love the film so much.

"I'll not be taking any chances with the ringtone in future though. I'll be sticking to plinky plonky music like everyone else from now on."

The court was told the unnamed woman, who was from a mixed African-Mediterranean background, overheard the ringtone while she was waiting to be served at the grocery store near Smith's home in Holmewood.

Jon Barber, defending, said his client denied making a racist remark in front of the complainant, but accepted the woman may have been offended by the ringtone.

"He thought it was amusing – but it's a lesson learned."

Shopkeeper Geoff Wallage said the woman had made no complaint to his staff at the time.

"I feel very sorry for Martin, he's a really decent bloke with a great sense of humour and he didn't deserve all this trouble. I feel that it's been a complete waste of public money. They should have told Martin to swap his ringtone and left it at that, instead of dragging him to court.

"I've got a Pakistani accountant and he couldn't believe it when I explained what had happened. It's just ridiculous."