A police inspector accused of racially abusing a colleague walked free from court after a sheriff ruled that messages between the officers were ‘banter.’
Gerard Friel, 52, referred to PC Mehmet Uslu, 38, as’mongo Mehmet from Marmaris’ and ‘wee Arab Mo’ on a WhatsApp group chat while they were working together in Motherwell, Lanarkshire.
He was charged after the messages were reported to higher-ups.
A trial at Hamilton Sheriff Court heard Uslu claim Friel showed ill will towards him as he began to become the butt of a string of the inspector’s jokes that were passed off as ‘banter.’
Messages shown to the court from Friel saw him call Uslu a ‘Turkish p***y’, a ‘p**f’ and ‘Turkish mongo’.
After Uslu sent a message which misspelt him going off ‘sick’ as ‘suck’, Friel sent back: ‘Go off suck? I bet you do ya bender.’
Friel, of Hamilton, accepted he had sent the messages but denied behaving in a threatening or abusive manner between February 2019 and April 2020.
Prosecutors claimed he repeatedly asked other officers if they understood Uslu, made racial and homophobic remarks, and sent him electronic messages with similar remarks.
Sheriff Shirley McKenna cleared him, saying the messages were not ‘threatening or abusive and had to be considered in the context of the ‘culture’ of ‘jokes and banter’ between the three officers in the WhatsApp group chat.
She stated that the evidence presented to her showed that Uslu had been in the group chat with Friel and the other officer for more than a year before reporting the messages as abusive.
Friel, who has now retired after 28 years in the force, had earlier told his trial he regarded Uslu as a ‘friend’ and was ‘shocked’ and ’embarrassed’ to find himself in court.
He said: ‘If I thought for one minute that I was insulting or offending someone I would apologize and change the way I was because that is the type of person that I am.
‘This was the biggest shock of my life when I found out that he had made allegations that he had been offended by me.’
In evidence, Uslu told the court he regretted not reporting Friel earlier and later raised a complaint with the Police Federation who referred the case to Police Scotland professional standards.
He added: ‘I was angry with myself that I had let that happen with the overall course of conduct and racist remarks towards me.
‘But I was scared to do anything because he always showed himself as being untouchable and that he would make your life a misery.
‘I had seen what had happened to others who challenged.’
Finding Friel not guilty, Sheriff McKenna said: ‘It is important to set out the relationship between the officers and what was sent in those messages which retrospectively became abusive to the complainer a year after they were sent.
‘The culture of the officers was that there were lots of jokes and the complainer accepted he thought they were a joke and did not tell the accused he was offended.
‘The messages were responded to by the complainer with emojis, particularly the crying face laughing emoji and the complainer engaged in the same type of jokes as was evidenced in the messages before the court.
‘I find the messages viewed were derogatory and could be considered grossly offensive being sent by a senior police officer and could be perceived as being racist and homophobic and could cause a reasonable person fear or alarm if taken in isolation without any background into the circumstances in which they were sent.
‘These messages were sent with a view of being banter and a joke and that was portrayed to me through others in this case and I find the case against the accused not guilty.’
Friel was found not guilty of slamming a door in the face of Uslu, shouting and swearing at him, mispronouncing his name, calling the constable a derogatory name, and asking him if he was speaking English and that he couldn’t understand what he was saying.
In April 2019, he was also acquitted of an alternative charge of sending Uslu text messages of a homophobic and racial nature that were grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing nature.
The alternative charge was allegedly aggravated by homophobic prejudice and racism.