A black councillor who called an Asian colleague a ‘coconut’ during a heated meeting was yesterday found guilty of racial harrassment.
Lib Dem Shirley Brown, 48, used the term to describe her counterpart Conservative Jay Jethwa at a Bristol City Council debate last year.
The jibe is used to accuse someone of betraying their heritage by pandering to 'white' opinion - as a coconut is white in the middle but brown on the outside, the court heard.
Mrs Jethwa, 42, did not hear the insult during the meeting but was alerted by a fellow councillor and later watched it on the council's webcast.
She wept at Bristol Magistrate's court yesterday as she recalled the ‘deeply upsetting’ moment she watched the footage.
Mrs Jethwa, who moved to England from India 24 years ago, said: ‘I was in the council offices and was asked if I'd heard what had been said.
‘When I heard it later that night I was shocked. I heard her say there was a word in her community for people like me and that word is coconut.
‘I was completely shocked and I was numb and had to rewind the footage to see if it was only me she had directed the comment to.
‘I was very very upset and distressed. The word is doubly insulting as it insults both me and the white population. She added that 'the water was either worth drinking or throwing away'. I consider this racist and saw her comments to mean that my comments were worth throwing out.’
Brown's outburst came came in response to Mrs Jethwa's proposal to cut funding to the city's Legacy Commission on February 24 last year, the court heard.
The project was set up in 2007 to educate people on the abolition of the slave trade two centuries ago.
She told the meeting that spending £750,000 of tax payers money ‘righting the wrongs of slavery’ did not make sense when Brown is alleged to have launched her racist tirade.
The Conservative Party lodged a formal complaint over the remarks to Bristol City Council on February 26.
A member of the public then complained to Avon and Somerset police and a criminal investigation was launched.
In July, Brown was suspended for a month by the council's Standards Committee for using ‘offensive and abusive language' but said they did not deem the term racist.
The suspension was then overturned on appeal by the Adjudication panel for England Tribunal Service in August and Brown was allowed to continue in her post.
But yesterday she was found guilty at racially aggravated harassment and given a 12-month conditional discharge.
Handing down his verdict at Bristol Magistrates Court, Chairman of the Bench Simon Cooper said: ‘She now, like so many other people, regrets in hindsight what she said.
‘She singled out that remark and therefore the remark was purely gratuitous and not concerned with the council debate.
‘In that context I am satisfied that Shirley Brown managed to cause distress to Councillor Jethwa. I am satisfied there was a potential for, albeit minor, public disorder and stimulation for racial hatred.’ Ordering her to pay £620 in costs: ‘You made a mistake for which you have to accept responsibility. It is a sad case.’
Speaking after the hearing Cllr Jethwa said: ‘I am satisfied with the court's decision. It vindicates the decision to prosecute. It sends out a message that such calculated insults will not be tolerated from any quarter.’