Mixed-race Norfolk soldier labelled Apu and Dr Huxtable by 'racist' comrades, court hears
PUBLISHED: 16:43 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:43 06 November 2019
Champion News Service Ltd
A mixed-race soldier who claims he was forced from his job after being compared to Scaramanga's henchman Nick Nack by a comrade is suing the MoD for £100,000.
Mark De Kretser, 48, who has Sri Lankan heritage, said he was subjected to "grindingly repetitive" racist taunts from colleagues at a Desert Rats base near Thetford.
He was compared to the diminutive James Bond bad guy, corner shop owner Apu from The Simpsons and Bill Cosby's Dr Huxtable character from The Cosby Show, he told a judge.
Racist posters were put up at the base, while he was also called "stupid" and assaulted, he says, before being medically discharged due to mental stresses in January 2017.
At the High Court in London, the former colour sergeant, of Wroxham, is claiming £100,000 for harassment and bullying from the MoD, which denies liability.
The MoD admits that some of the events happened, but says they were just "banter" between best mates in a cadet training group, part of the 7 Infantry Brigade, known as the Desert Rats.
None of it was racist and was instead done in the "spirit of jest," while Mr De Kretser himself was prone to using "salty language," the MoD claims.
But his barrister Christopher Hough said: "This was a bunch of white men in their 40s who were pretending in their way that the Equality Act hadn't been passed and that tolerance of racism is still the same now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
"By its defence to this claim, the MoD invites the court to 'turn the clock back' to an earlier age, where 'banter' was considered acceptable."
Mr Hough said Mr De Kretser came from a military family, and was "very proud" of his Sri Lankan heritage.
He joined the cadets at 11, then became a member of the TA in 1988, eventually becoming a full-time colour sergeant based at the Thetford unit in 2013.
During his time as a reservist, he was deployed abroad several times, serving in Iraq, Cyprus and Afghanistan, Judge Graham Robinson was told.
His barrister said that between 2013 and 2015, Mr De Kretser was subjected to a campaign of bullying at Thetford.
It involved "humiliating, insulting and grindingly repetitive jokes, often based on his mixed race," said Mr Hough.
Among others, he was compared to Apu, Nick Nack, Dr Huxtable, Gary Coleman from 80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes and British-Cypriot dance duo Stavros Flatley, from Britain's Got Talent.
Some of the mockery occurred in cartoon posters, depicting him as Nick Nack and Stavros Flatley, which were pinned on a notice board in the base, he said.
"The only common characteristic is race and ethnic origin," said Mr Hough.
Mr Hough said the dad-of-four felt so "ostracised and ridiculed" about the colour of his skin that he sought a copy of his family tree from his mother to show he had Dutch Burgher ancestry.
But when he produced it, he was allegedly racially abused.
The MoD denies that incident occurred and denies there was any "aggressive or vindictive name-calling" in the unit.
Sgt Kevin McHenry, who admitted putting up the Nick Nack and Stavros Flatley posters and who referred to Mr De Kretser as Dr Huxtable, considered he was his best friend.
The posters were "good-natured and formed part of an overall context of camaraderie and banter," while the Dr Huxtable reference came from Mr De Kretser first, said MoD barrister Niazi Fetto.
"Mr De Kretser paints a picture of a group of men who singled him out for different, adverse treatment," said the barrister.
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"The reality was the opposite: he was welcomed and included by the unit, within which a degree of banter and badinage was the norm."
He claimed: "He was, moreover, an initiator of such banter and badinage and actively engaged in name-calling and the use of salty language.
"He did not display sensitivity to such behaviour, but rather ease and comfort with it. On occasions, he took it too far."
He continued: "There was no racial aspect or motivation to his colleagues' dealings with him. Such banter and badinage as did take place was in a friendly environment and in a spirit of jest."
He claimed Mr De Kretser was "complicit" in the banter, having made racist remarks himself, which Mr Hough said he "mostly denies".
Mr De Kretser was medically discharged from the services in January 2017, having sustained psychiatric damage due to the bullying, his barrister claimed.
His claim for a payout includes claims for lost earnings and the loss of his military pension. He claims he would otherwise have continued in the forces.