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Cinema-goer avoids jail over racist slur

By Alan Erwin

Published 12/02/2016

O'Connor attempted to get into a screening with a cup full of cider
O'Connor attempted to get into a screening with a cup full of cider

A film-goer who called a member of staff a "gook" after being challenged about drinking alcohol in the cinema has narrowly avoided jail.

Sentencing Daniel O'Connor to probation and community service, a judge told him he had come within a "hair's breadth" of imprisonment for his "boorish" behaviour and outburst at a Belfast multiplex.

Peter King insisted: "Racist language is, quite frankly, beyond the Pale."

O'Connor (34), of Oranmore Street in the city, pleaded guilty to common assault and disorderly behaviour charges.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard he had to be restrained by others at the Movie House on Dublin Road during the incident last September.

O'Connor had been drinking and tried to get back into a screening with a cup filled with cider.

He was denied entry to the auditorium but pushed past an employee and started shouting, said prosecuting counsel.

"He called a member of staff a gook," the lawyer added.

The term is a racial slur used against Vietnamese people.

Up to four members of the public helped detain O'Connor until police arrived. Defence counsel described O'Connor as a chronic alcoholic since the age of 12.

He argued that it had only been a "technical" assault of trying to push past an employee refusing to let him into the cinema.

"In relation to the comment made, he has no memory of saying that," the barrister added.

"He says he's not a racist, and this isn't being prosecuted as a race hate crime."

With O'Connor still serving a suspended prison sentence for unrelated offences, District Judge King stressed he was close to being put behind bars.

He told the defendant: "This was an offence in a public place, there would have been people going about their lawful business, potentially families there, and your behaviour was boorish and unpleasant."

He added: "It's not something any employee should have to put up with."

But recognising both the potential for rehabilitation and lack of any past racial hostility, the judge sentenced O'Connor to 12 months' probation.

He also imposed a maximum 100 hours community service to reflect the language used.

Judge King added: "This was a hair's breadth from sending you to prison."

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