“plucked from obscurity” and “soared to stardom”, a court has heard.

Heathcliff actor who racially harassed partner given conditional discharge

James Howson, who was plucked from obscurity to star in 2011 film, had admitted threatening his partner and baby daughter

Martin Wainwright


James Howson, who has been given a conditional discharge for the racially aggravated harassment of his partner and mother of their young daughter. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

James Howson, 24, appeared before Leeds magistrates court from St James’s hospital in the city, where he is detained under the Mental Health Act by an order which currently extends to 26 September.

He spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and national insurance number before the hearing was told of his increasingly hostile attitude to his partner, Shakira Ramdihal as he developed a psychotic illness. Prosecutor Manda Harris said that he had made violent threats against both mother and baby after he was refused admission to the maternity wing last September following the child’s birth.

In mitigation for Howson, who pleaded guilty at a previous hearing, solicitor Anthony Sugare said that the attention and publicity surrounding the film might have contributed to the breakdown.

Sugare said: “His bizarre behaviour was largely a result of his psychotic illness. It may be that his short film career may have had a detrimental effect on him. He was plucked from obscurity from an advert in his local jobcentre and soared to stardom.”

Howson beat hundreds of other applicants to the role after hearing from the unemployed centre that the film’s director Andrew Arnold wanted a young actor matching Emily Brontë’s description of Heathcliff as a “dark-skinned gipsy in aspect and a little lascar” (an old term for Indian sailors). But although he triumphed at auditions organised by the casting director Gail Stevens, who previously chose the local children used in the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, he was upset when his voice was dubbed in the final production.

His background from a broken home, expelled from school at 14 and serving jail terms for theft and drug offences, mirrored that of the young Heathcliff. He was paid £7,800 for his work on the film, which won critical approval, but other parts have not followed.

Sugare told the court that the abuse was indefensible but added: “I think we have to take into context that they were all threats and there were no acts of violence towards the complainant and the child. He does regret his behaviour, which I can describe and concede as being disgraceful.”

The chair of the bench, Elaine Buckle, said: “We do view this as a very serious offence. These incidents must have been very unpleasant for the complainant. However, we must take into consideration the mental health issues of the defendant.”

Howson was also ordered to pay court costs of £350 at £5 a week from his £50-a-week income support.

Link to first story : https://www.manchesterusersnetwork.org.uk/?p=3124

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