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Former soldier loses appeal over race abuse award

Private was racially abused by a sergeant while serving in the Falklands with the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards

Paul Keogh Former soldier William Kemeh was racially abused by a superior officer in the Falklands
Former soldier William Kemeh was racially abused by a superior officer in the Falklands

A former soldier who was racially abused by an army sergeant will not receive any further compensation after Ministry of Defence lawyers successfully argued he was not the victim of "very serious" racism.

African-born William Kemeh, 34, of Aldershot, argued his £6,000 payout was far too small after he was insulted by a senior NCO while serving as a private in the Falklands in 2010.

He was upset after being told to “shut up” and being called dumb by the sergeant, who referred to the colour of his skin, during a discussion about black England footballer Jermaine Defoe.

But on Tuesday (February 11) – while acknowledging that the comment was "offensive" – three judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled £6,000 was enough to compensate him for his injured feelings.

Mr Kemeh moved to the UK from Ghana in 2004 and joined the British Army. He was trained as a cook and posted to the Falklands, where the abuse took place at the Four Seasons mess.

The former private, who was serving with the First Battalion Welsh Guards, was discussing the England striker during the 2010 World Cup when he was subjected to the racial slur.

About a month earlier, he was the victim of similar abuse when he went to a store to pick up some chicken to cook soup for his colleagues and was given only two pieces of meat.

Mr Kemeh asked for more and was told by the civilian butcher, employed by the MoD as a contractor: “Why should I trust you? First of all, you are a private in the British Army and then you are black.”

'Distressing and unsettling'

He was originally awarded £3,500 for the butcher’s comment and another £12,000 to reflect the sergeant’s abuse but those were slashed to zero and £6,000, respectively, by an Employment Appeal Tribunal in March.

Mr Kemeh’s lawyers argued that £6,000 was not enough to compensate him. He had been abused by a superior officer whose word he had to obey and who had a high degree of responsibility for him.

Daphne Romney QC, for Mr Kemeh, said: “An insult from a superior is deeply distressing, but it is also, in military terms, wholly unsettling.

“Trust between military personnel is paramount and Private Kemeh’s distress should be recognised within that context. As is made clear from his witness statement, he was so upset that he considered leaving the army immediately and would have done, but for the small inconvenience of being stationed in the Falklands 8,000 miles from home.”

However, dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Elias said the £6,000 award was reasonable.

He said: “It is important that awards should not be too low, thereby trivialising the harm.

“But it is equally important that they should not be too high, since that risks creating the impression that victims of discrimination are over-compensated and being given unfairly generous treatment when compared with victims of personal injury, for example.”

The judge, sitting with Lords Justice Lewison and Kitchin, concluded: “This was not a discriminatory act resulting in dismissal or refusing a job application. It was an offensive comment.”

 
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