RESTAURANT-GOERS who suspect the couple at the next table are eavesdropping on their conversation may not be far from the truth.
Police in Gloucester have begun a crackdown on racial abuse in ethnic restaurants by going undercover to make sure that diners keep unpalatable opinions to themselves.
Operation Napkin was started last week with four plain-clothes officers eating in pairs in Indian and Chinese restaurants.
The first two days resulted in a 51-year-old man being arrested for racially aggravated harassment in an Indian restaurant. He is to appear before magistrates in Gloucester tomorrow. Another man was overheard by the plain-clothes officers as he mimicked an Indian waiter, but police decided that his behaviour was not bad enough to warrant prosecution.
Now Gloucestershire police are warning that they will be carrying out more covert operations in ethnic restaurants.
Chief Inspector Dean Walker said: "Racist behaviour is unacceptable. The constabulary is now taking a proactive stance in relation to racist offences rather than waiting for people to report them to us.
"Our aim is to act in the interests of the restaurants and of other diners who are offended by racist behaviour but feel reluctant to intervene.
"We want to encourage the reporting of racial crimes."
People from ethnic minority groups now have more confidence that police will treat their complaints properly and police themselves have become more aware of the seriousness of racist crime, Mr Walker said.
The number of racist incidents reported to the police in the Gloucester and Forest of Dean area has increased during the past year from 79 to 149, but officers believe that there are still many other incidents that have gone unreported.