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By Daily Mail Reporter
UPDATED: 20:54 GMT, 17 February 2012
A mother whose alleged racist rant on a crowded tram was seen by millions online claimed she had taken a double dose of medication, a court heard today.
Emma West, 34, who allegedly hurled abuse at fellow passengers on a busy Croydon tram, claims she had been on her way back from an appointment with her psychiatrist when the incident happened.
The former dental nurse appeared at Croydon Crown Court today to deny two counts of racially aggravated abuse and will stand trial for the offence on June 11.
Around 20 supporters from the British National Party said they had turned out to support the mother, whose four-year-old was sitting on her knee at the time of the alleged offence.
She was originally charged with one count of racially aggravated intentional harassment between September 30 and November 28 last year.
But a second charge of racially aggravated fear or provocation of violence was added after tram passenger Ena-May Eubanks complained West had allegedly punched her with a closed fist after spouting a racist rant at her.
West, of New Addington, Croydon, wore a black suit and burgundy shirt and spoke only to enter her plea at today’s short hearing.
David Ewings, defending her, told the court his client denied the incident with Mrs Eubanks had ever happened.
He added there was a dispute about intention in relation to the first charge. When asked what her defence was, Mr Ewings said: ‘She was under the influence of drugs. She had taken a double dose of her medication.
‘Miss West was returning from an appointment with her psychiatrist when this incident allegedly took place.’
The defence intend to call seven witnesses during the three-day trial who were all passengers on the tram when the two minute and 20 second video clip was recorded on a mobile phone.
The Recorder of Croydon, Warwick McKinnon, ordered the defence statement and medical report from West’s doctor to be served by 4pm on February 20. Additional evidence sought by the defence from a pharmacologist needs to be served within six weeks.
He said there will be a pre-hearing review to check the case is ready on May 11 and released West on conditional bail which bans her from travelling on any tram in the Croydon area.
A video tape allegedly recording part of the incident has had millions of hits on YouTube.
The video is said to show a woman saying ‘What has this country come to with all the f****** black people and f****** Polish.’
Outside court a BNP member, who would not give his name, said people had turned out to support West.
He said: ‘Whenever one of the black or Asian community is accused of something their community turn out to support them and that’s why we’re here today to support Emma.’
The man added the case had the support of BNP leader Nick Griffin but said the group was not protesting today at the request of West’s family.
The sad story of Emma West
Published on Friday, 12 July 2013 18:39
Written by Sonia Gable
Remember Emma West: the woman who hurled abuse at black and Polish passengers on a Croydon tram in October 2011 and was arrested after video of her tirade went viral on YouTube?
The video, in which West was seen holding her four-year-old son, went on to be watched by more than 11 million people after it was posted on 28 November 2011 and provoked outrage with many people calling for her to be locked up for a long time.
Although no one had reported the incident to the police at the time, the attention prompted the police to appeal for witnesses. West was found and charged with a racially aggravated public order offence. That prompted the British National Party, English Defence League and other far-right groups to take up her cause.
Before she was due to go on trial in June 2012, people who claimed to support her were selling badges proclaiming “Emma West was right” and describing her as a “British hero”. BNP leader Nick Griffin posted messages of support on Twitter before some of her magistrates’ court appearances and the party’s candidate for London mayor, Carlos Cortiglia, attended one hearing, as did the well known BNP thug Dave Clarke. There were far-right demonstrations in her support outside the court, despite her family telling them to stay away.
Her cause was championed on fascist websites, including the Nazi Stormfront forum, and Britain First, a campaign group run by a handful of former BNP officers and the notorious thug and former BNP fundraiser Jim Dowson, started a campaign to have the charge against her dropped.
As a result of the far-right support, threats were made to burn down her house “not by the political right but by people from the other end of the political spectrum”, according to West’s barrister David Martin-Sperry.
At the beginning of July, West appeared at Croydon Crown Court for sentencing. She was bound over to keep the peace and given a 24-month community order. She also received a mental health treatment order for assaulting a constable in a separate incident.
Emma West’s case is an example of what can go wrong when the police and Crown Prosecution Service get carried away with zeal in trying to prosecute racism. And the far-right involvement, unwanted by West, may have made the CPS more determined to prosecute her.
At the sentencing, Martin-Sperry said West’s offending was out of character and she does not have racist views. But she had unwittingly taken two and a half times the recommended dose of her prescribed anti-depressants and had drunk a large glass of wine. The judge said she was clearly suffering from mental health problems at the time of her outburst.
West had initially been charged with racially aggravated intentional harassment and threatening and aggressive behaviour: serious charges for which conviction was quite likely to result in a prison sentence. In February last year she pleaded not guilty to both charges and her lawyer explained that medical reports were being obtained.
Her trial was adjourned five times because she was medically unfit to appear in court. But her barrister was unsuccessful in an application to the Attorney-General to terminate proceedings on medical grounds. The CPS also rejected all attempts to have the case discontinued and Martin-Sperry was making an abuse of process application when a compromise was reached under which she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of racially aggravated disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress, which crucially does not include a reference to intent. West was determined not to be branded a racist.
Before the incident West had taken 100mg of the antidepressant Citalopram, more than twice the recommended limit. Her barrister said a recognised side-effect of the drug was developing “unusual ideas”. West’s friend Kerry Finch said that after taking the pills she had a glass of wine at lunch. Finch told the Croydon Advertiser: “It doesn’t sound like much but on the medication she was on, it’s always been enough to set her off”.
West, 35, a former dental receptionist, has suffered from depression since she was 18 and had been admitted to a psychiatric unit a month before the tram incident.
According to Finch, when West got on the tram it was very busy. She was holding her son and no one would give up their seat. Someone knocked into her and her son fell on the floor. That was when she started her rant.
When she returned home she knew something had happened but could not remember what, Martin-Sperry told the Croydon Advertiser. She was surprised when a month later her face was all over the television news, and could not believe what she had done.
The support of the BNP “deeply distressed” West, according to Martin-Sperry. That coupled with the pressure of the trial led her to try to take her own life on three occasions. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit after twice being found on roundabouts in Croydon, intent on throwing herself in front of traffic.
In May, with her mental health deteriorating, she stabbed her husband, Ricky Metson, with an ornamental knife during an argument and was remanded in custody after pleading guilty to actual bodily harm and assaulting a police officer who had gone to arrest her. Metson is standing by her.
When she appeared at Croydon Crown Court in June for her behaviour on the tram, Judge Warwick McKinnon, the Recorder of Croydon, said: “It seems to me that some heads need to be bashed together. People are getting in entrenched positions and losing all sense of proportion. This case is in danger of careering out of control.” It was after this statement that the CPS and West’s barrister agreed to the compromise of a lesser offence.
Nevertheless, the 24-month community order she received is long for this offence which is often dealt with in the magistrates’ court by way of a fine, especially as she should have received a one third reduction in her sentence for pleading guilty on the first occasion this offence was put to her. Three years is the maximum length of a community order.
Whoever it was who posted the video on YouTube probably did not stop to think about the potential consequences. Certainly when it was posted initially the four-year-old was in full view. More shameful is that the CPS continued to prosecute the case long after West’s mental state was apparent.
Yes, racist harassment should be taken seriously in the appropriate circumstances. But although people on the tram probably were upset by West’s outburst, nobody took it seriously enough to complain. Perhaps West’s fellow passengers, unlike the CPS, realised that West had mental health problems and was not in full control of what she was saying.
A bit of compassion all round would not have gone amiss.