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Emma West 'isn't a racist, she's unwell', says friend

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MILLIONS watched her hurl abuse at black and Polish passengers on a crowded Croydon tram and, when she was arrested, her cause was adopted by far right groups such as the National Front.

But is Emma West, the mother-of-two who this week pleaded guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence, a racist?

Not according to her close friend Kerry Finch, who believes the 35-year-old, from New Addington, is an unwell and vulnerable woman struggling to deal with bipolar depression.

"I don't condone her behaviour or what she said because it was disgusting," said Ms Finch.

"But Emma isn't a racist. She lost it because she is very unwell and lashed out in a way she knew would upset whoever happened to be there.

"Had the tram been full of pretty people she would have been calling them slags and prostitutes."

West, a former dental receptionist, has suffered from depression since she was 18, and had been admitted to a psychiatric unit in Purley a month before her tram tirade in October 2011.

In an interview with the Advertiser at the time, which can only now be published for legal reasons, Miss Finch said West had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act after attacking and hurling abuse at her for being "pretty".

Two days after being released, she went to see a therapist with her son at the Tamworth Road Resource Centre, in West Croydon.

"The session was pretty tough," said Miss Finch.

"She had spoken about things she hadn't spoken about before.

"Afterwards she had a glass of wine at lunch. It doesn't sound like much but on the medication she was on, it's always been enough to set her off."

West had taken 100mg of antidepressant Citalopram, more than twice the recommended limit.

Her barrister, David Martin-Sperry, said a recognised side-effect of the drug was developing "unusual ideas".

"When she got on the tram it was really busy," said Miss Finch.

"She was holding her son and no-one would give up their seat.

"Someone knocked into her and her son fell on the floor.

"That's when she behaved so despicably."

Though her rant, which included "You aren't British, you're black", was caught on camera by another passenger, no-one reported the incident to the police.

"When she returned home she knew something had happened but she couldn't remember what," Mr Martin-Sperry told the Advertiser.

"Then a month or so later she turned on the television and her face was all over the news. She couldn't believe what she had done."

The video would go on to be watched by more than 11 million people after it was posted on YouTube on November 28, 2011.

It provoked outrage. Television presenter Piers Morgan called for her to be deported. Others said she should be locked up.

The attention prompted the police to appeal for witnesses. West was tracked down and charged with a racially aggravated public order offence, prompting her cause to be taken up by right-wing groups such as the British National Party and National Front.

Their support, said Mr Martin-Sperry, "deeply distressed" his client and, coupled with the pressure of the trial, led her to try and take her own life on three separate occasions.

The Advertiser understands that she was admitted to a psychiatric unit after twice being found on roundabouts in Croydon, intent on throwing herself in front of traffic.

Her deteriorating mental health led to concerns for her safety and that of her family; fears which were realised last month when she stabbed her husband Ricky Metson with an ornamental knife during an argument.

Mr Metson was stabbed twice in the back during the attack at their home in Grenville Road, New Addington, on May 15. When officers arrived to arrest her she kicked them.

The following day, West appeared at Croydon Magistrates' Court and was remanded in custody after pleading guilty to actual bodily harm and assaulting a police officer.

It was during a bail hearing in relation to this case at Croydon Crown Court on Monday that she changed her plea after both the prosecution and defence agreed to a compromise suggested by Judge Warwick McKinnon.

West had denied racially aggravated intentional harassment on a tram travelling between Croydon and Wimbledon between September 30 and November 28, 2011.

However, she has now pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress, which crucially does not include mention of 'intent'.

She was bailed to return to Croydon Crown Court to be sentenced for the tram rant, and the assaults on her husband and the police officer, on July 1.

Speaking at the couple's home, Mr Metson, who is standing by his wife, said they wanted to be left alone to rebuild their lives.

How court case "careered out of control" Emma West maintained her innocence for nearly two years despite her rant being caught on video and watched by millions of people across the world. West's trial had been adjourned five times, most recently on April 9, amid debate as to whether she was fit to stand. Other hearings in June, July and then September last year were put back, as well as a scheduled trial date in January. Full details of those hearings can only now be revealed after a reporting restriction imposed by a judge was lifted. West's defence team insisted she would not plead guilty to a racial offence for fear of being branded a racist but was "manifestly" unfit to stand trial because she was a "gibbering wreck". Barrister David Martin-Sperry even unsuccessfully applied to the Attorney General for a 'nolle prosequi'. This would have terminated proceedings and is most often used where the defendant is physically unfit to be produced. Mr Martin-Sperry said the Crown Prosecution Service, which rejected all attempts to have the proceedings discontinued, had mishandled the case and was making an abuse of process application when a compromise was reached. He added: "At the back of all this there is a woman who is really now not being prosecuted but persecuted, which is not a word I use lightly." Julius Capon, prosecuting, said: "While Ms West has been on bail she has attacked and injured others, including her husband. "It's all very well to say that the Crown's position is intransigent but, while we can look on the defendant with a certain amount of sympathy for her condition, the evidence against her is overwhelming and she has no defence." Judge Warwick McKinnon, the Recorder of Croydon, said: "It seems to me that some heads need to be bashed together. "People are getting in entrenched positions and losing all sense of proportion. This case is in danger of careering out of control." On Monday both sides agreed to the Judge McKinnon's compromise, and West pleaded guilty to a lesser offence normally dealt with by a magistrates' court by way of a fine. She is expected to receive a community sentence.Far-right support 'led to suicide attempts' THE far-right was quick to hijack Emma West's case, claiming her arrest to be an attack on freedom of speech. Members of the National Front and the English Defence League regularly attended her court appearances, and sent her flowers and cheques in the post. BNP leader Nick Griffin posted messages of support on social networking site Twitter before West made her first appearance at Croydon Magistrates' Court in December 2011. After she was remanded in custody her supporters shouted "treason" and "what a disgrace" from a public gallery which included former Croydon Central BNP candidate Clifford Le May and Carlos Cortiglia, who stood to be Mayor of London in 2012. Her cause was championed on fascist websites, including neo-Nazi Stormfront, which has a dozen threads of support including one called "The Persecution of Emma West". Britain First, which describes itself as a "patriotic political movement", started a campaign to have the charge against her dropped. Its members staged a protest outside HMP Bronzefield, in Ashford, where West was remanded. Last June the Advertiser revealed that the National Front were selling badges proclaiming West to be a "British Hero" ahead of her trial. The pins, emblazoned with "Emma West was right" were being sold on eBay for £2.50. A Facebook group, one of many calling Free Emma West, attracted 900 members. West's legal team argued the unwanted attention was adding to her distress and made her fear for her safety. Such was her concern that police installed a panic button at her home. "This case, from the outset, was picked up on by forces of the political right," said Mr Martin-Sperry at a hearing in April. "The net result is that threats have been made to burn down her house, not by the political right but by people from the other end of the political spectrum. "There have been threats to burn her house, she has been physically assaulted and beaten to the ground outside her home. "If she is to plead guilty to an offence which contained the words racial aggravation, she fears being labelled a racist." This week Mr Martin-Sperry said the arson threats had been made on an internet forum and the assault had not been reported to the police. National Front spokesman Tony Martin said the party did not condone West's behaviour, but said her treatment has been "completely out of proportion". (Report by Gareth Davies)

Emma West 'isn't a racist, she's unwell', says friend


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