Galliano tells court: I remember nothing

Fashion designer John Galliano will learn 11 weeks from today the outcome of his day-long trial on charges of hurling racist and anti-Semitic remarks at patrons in a hip Paris bar.

After seven hours of hearings – at which the 50-year-old couturier blamed his career-wrecking conduct on a crippling addiction to drugs and alcohol – a criminal court in the French capital set September 8 for sentencing.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the furore broke in February, Galliano said he had no recollection of the incidents that cost him his highly coveted job as creative director at the Christian Dior fashion house.

“They are not views that I hold or believe in,” he said after the court viewed an amateur video in which he declared a love for Hitler to shocked patrons at La Perle in the Le Marais, the old Jewish quarter of Paris.

“In the video, I see someone who needs help, who is very vulnerable. It is a shell of John Galliano, pushed to the edge,” said the Gibraltar-born and London-bred designer who repeatedly denied he was anti-Semitic or racist.   

He told the court he suffered from a triple addiction to alcohol, valium and sleeping pills, and that he checked into rehab in Arizona and Switzerland after his downfall at Dior. Today, he added, “I am in day care”.

Widely regarded as one of the finest fashion designers of his generation, Galliano faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine of €22,500 ($32,000) if convicted of making anti-Semitic insults.

Prosecutor Anne de Fontette asked the court Wednesday to fine Galliano no less than 10,000 euros, but made no mention of prison time, at the conclusion of a long day in a hot, stuffy, wood-panelled criminal court chamber.

“I apologise very much,” said Galliano in a soft voice when asked by presiding judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud if he wanted to apologise to his reputed victims. “I apologise for the sadness this whole affair has caused.”

“I embrace every people, every race, creed, religion, sexuality,” he said, adding that he celebrated diversity through his couture.

Galliano said that he himself had experienced bigotry first hand after he moved to south London in the 1960s with his family at the age of six, enduring bullying at “a typical English school” because of his homosexuality.

He said he began abusing drugs and alcohol in 2007 following the death of Steven Robinson, his closest friend and right-hand man at both Dior and his own John Galliano label.

“After every creative high, I would crash, and alcohol helped me escape,” he said, adding later: “I’m much better now.”

Dressed soberly in a black jacket, matching loose silk trousers, but without his signature hat, Galliano was accompanied by his lawyer Aurelien Hamelle and a burly, bald-headed bodyguard who sat two rows behind him.

An interpreter whispered into his left ear as Sauteraud, with a docket 20 centimetres (eight inches) high at her side, read from a document that quoted Galliano as using such phrases as “fucking ugly Jewish bitch”.

Asked by the prosecutor if she was sure Galliano had used the word “Jewish”, his alleged target, museum curator Geraldine Bloch, replied confidently: “Yes, several times… it was one of the most recurrent words.”

She said Galliano had begun by mocking her “cheap boots”, moved on to insult her figure and finally called her “a dirty Jewish bitch”.

Her companion that evening, receptionist Philippe Virgitti, testified that Galliano made several obscene Jewish references, and that he had also called him a “fucking Asian bastard” as well.

But Marion Bully, 30, an English teacher within earshot of the altercation, said that while she heard Galliano insult Bloch, at no time did she hear Jewish references.

A second witness, a 24-year-old German fashion student, said she too was at the bar on February 24 and confirmed an altercation, but added: “I did not hear any anti-Semitic things.”

Another woman, Fathia Oumeddour, later came forward to say she was the victim of a similar assault in October 2010. Her complaint was integrated into Wednesday’s proceedings.

The video was taken on a third occasion, apparently at La Perle. Galliano – seen in the clip wearing a winter cap – said he had no recollection of the incident, but added that he believed it may have taken place in December 2010.

Bloch is seeking a symbolic one euro in damages, although her lawyer Yves Beddock told the court that Galliano had already been punished in a way: “The sentence has already been handed down – by Dior.”

In the days after the February 24 incident, Galliano lodged a counter-suit against Bloch and Virgitti, alleging defamation.


French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.