Civil servant found guilty of racially aggravated harassment
24 September 2009
The Guardian reports:
A senior Foreign Office civil servant was today facing the sack after being convicted of racially aggravated harassment.
Rowan Laxton, who heads the South Asia desk, launched an expletive-ridden tirade against Israel and Jews as he worked out at a London gym.
A court was told the 48-year-old shouted: "Fucking Israelis, fucking Jews" as he watched a television news report about the death of a Palestinian farmer.
His fellow gym members Gideon Falter and William Lemaine overheard him and complained to gym staff.
Falter claimed he also heard Laxton say: "If I had my way, the fucking international community should be sent in, and if the Israelis got in the way, they'd be blown off the fucking earth."
The incident, which happened during the conflict in Gaza last January, was described by Laxton's counsel as a "moment of madness".
"It is a cliche, but it's a cliche that fits in this situation," Julian Knowles told Westminster magistrates court. "It was a moment of madness for Mr Laxton, which is going to have very grave and long-term consequences.
"Whatever happens in court is secondary to the effect it will have on his career and his reputation. The real punishment is yet to come."
Laxton, who earns £3,000 a month after tax, was suspended from his post after the outburst and could now be sacked.
Giving evidence, Laxton said: "I am embarrassed, to be honest with you.
"I offended somebody, I embarrassed the Foreign Office, I've caused anxiety to a number of friends and family and, in particular, I regret using foul language and I regret using imprecise language.
"I regret very much the way in which this case came out in the media and the suggestion that I am antisemitic or racist in any way. I am not."
He said he fully accepted that his comments suggested everybody in Israel was "somehow responsible" for the farmer's death.
Laxton was fined £350 and ordered to pay £500 prosecution costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Knowles said his client was "very disappointed" with the outcome and would consider "his next steps with his legal team".
Laxton was suspended from his job earlier this year, and a misconduct hearing is likely to start this week.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that a member of FCO staff was convicted, on 24 September, of a public order offence.
"The FCO takes very seriously any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour by its staff.
"The case will now be considered under the FCO's misconduct procedure. This is an internal matter, and it would therefore be wrong to comment further."