FRIDAY, DEC. 21: The stunned boss of a deli in Hamilton yesterday denied making a racial slur and vowed to fight back against his accusers.  

Hickory Stick co-owner and manager Paul Lawrence is alleged to have said: “We finally got the n*****s out” after the OBA won power on Monday.

The alleged slur spread rapidly on social media sites yesterday, with calls for a boycott of the deli.

The issue raises questions about freedom of speech and the risks associated with defamatory statements and unproven accusations published on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. (See separate story, below, right).

Mr Lawrence has contacted police in a bid to track down the source of the claim and instructed his lawyer to take action.

And he issued a public statement late yesterday afternoon (see below) saying that the “malicious” accusation might have been designed to damage his business; that anyone who knows him would be sure of his innocence and that if his accuser turned out to be an employee, that person would be fired.

Mr Lawrence, when approached at lunchtime yesterday, said: “I am shell-shocked. I totally deny this. This is untrue.

“I have had the police down here trying to find out who started this. My lawyer is also involved.”

He added: “It has not affected my business at all, as you can see.”

A woman poster on social media claimed she heard the remark as Mr Lawrence reportedly spoke into a cellphone in the street near his business. She declined to be identified.

Mr Lawrence reiterated: “It never happened – it’s just somebody having a personal attack, but I have no idea why people might do that. I am an OBA supporter. People know that. It might have something to do with that – I can’t think of anything else.”

He added that an advert repeating his denial would be placed in The Royal Gazette as soon as possible.

A Facebook statement by an unnamed person said: “Hey (name removed)...I wz the person who heard him..he def said it I wldnt make smth like that up...I also knw the lady that called and he def admitted to it but as bein a joke...his whole staff is made up of black ppl as well as the support he gets is lots of blacks...jus really didn’t expect that from his mouth considering the support he gets....maybe if it wz a white person that herd him it wldnt be so bad..n ppl can say wat they like but I jus choose not to support him hearing it first hand....”

Other posts on Facebook also suggested that when called about the alleged remark, Mr Lawrence had explained that it was said as a joke.

But when asked by the Bermuda Sun, Mr Lawrence was adamant yesterday that he never said the words.

Other posts on the same Facebook thread cautioned against taking boycott action based on what were unsubstantiated rumours.

Mr Lawrence can take civil action claiming for damages for defamation — and a section of the law allows for a criminal offence as well.

Alan Dunch, director of legal firm MJM and a defamation law specialist, said: “Any publication of defamatory material, irrespective of where the publication might be, is actionable if the perpetrator of the defamation can be ascertained.

Postings can be traced

“People should not think that, simply because they are posting defamatory material on a public website or medium for social discourse that they immune because, at the end of the day, these postings can be traced, albeit with some time, skill and expertise.

“If the target of that defamation wants to pursue it, the means are there to do so. One should be very careful.”

The criminal law as it relates to defamation is governed by Part XII of the Criminal Code Act 1907. Subsection 205 says: “Any imputation concerning any person, or any member of his family, whether living or dead, by which the reputation of that person is likely to be injured, or by which he is likely to be injured in his profession, occupation or trade, or by which other persons are likely to be induced to shun, or avoid, or ridicule, or despise him, is called defamatory, and the matter of the imputation is called defamatory matter.

“The imputation may be expressed either directly or by insinuation or irony. Any person who, by spoken words or audible sounds, or by words intended to be read either by sight or touch, or by signs, signals, gestures, or visible representations, publishes any defamatory imputation concerning any person is said to defame that person.

“Publication is defined to include, inter alia, both written and spoken words. In cases other than those involving publication of words to be read, it is a defence to prove that the person defamed was not likely to be injured thereby.

“The offence of publishing any defamatory matter is punishable by imprisonment for up to 12 months or for a term of up to 2 years if the offender knew the matter to be false.”

We reached out to the police to comment but without success.