James Howson, first mixed-race actor to play Heathcliff, awaits sentencing for abusing mother of his child after they split up
The young star of the latest film version of Wuthering Heights, who is awaiting sentence for racially abusing a former girlfriend, has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Proceedings were adjourned at Leeds magistrates court after James Howson's solicitor explained that the 24-year-old was being treated at a hospital in Newcastle.
Sectioning is used in cases where doctors are convinced that psychiatric treatment is essential, compelling the patient to accept medical help for 28 days, renewable for further periods, with the right of appeal by the patient or friends and relatives.
Howson's solicitor Anthony Sugare said outside the court: "The position is that on arriving at court this morning, I was told that the court itself had heard from the hospital that he had been taken in there under the Mental Health Act for a period of 28 days for observation."
The actor, who made his much-publicised debut as the first mixed-race actor to play Heathcliff in November, admitted the racially aggravated harassment of Shakira Ramdihal at a hearing in Leeds last month. Magistrates were told that he shouted abuse and threats at the 23-year-old after rows over her pregnancy and the end of their three-year relationship.
The abuse went on for about four months and he had been so aggressive that he was banned from the maternity unit after their baby daughter was born. The offences coincided with the launch of Wuthering Heights which saw Howson combine unsuccessful hunting for more film work on a ?34-a-week jobseeker's allowance with engagements at the Venice film festival and other such gatherings.
He landed the part after hearing from a centre for the unemployed in Leeds that the film's director, Andrea Arnold, was looking for a young actor matching Emily Bront?'s original description of Heathcliff as a "dark-skinned gipsy in aspect and a little lascar" (an old term for Indian sailors). He beat hundreds of other applicants to the role at auditions organised by the casting director Gail Stevens, who previously chose the local children used in the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.
Howson's 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. Paid ?7,800 for his work, which won critical approval, he was upset to discover on seeing the film that his voice had been dubbed.
The sentence hearing was adjourned until 26 March.