Condemnation of racist abuse in St Albans after Brexit

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 July 2016

St Albans City and District Council

St Albans City and District Council

Archant

It has been revealed that another racist incident occurred in connection with the EU referendum – on polling day itself.

At a full St Albans council meeting last Wednesday (13), councillors unanimously supported a proposal that the local authority “reassures all people living and working in the district that they are valued members of our community”.

Cllr Simon Grover pointed out that although people in St Albans could be “proud” of offering practical help to Syrian refugees settling in our district, “hate crime is a real issue”.

There have been reports of incidents in St Albans following Brexit, prompting the local authority to declare its “condemnation of racism, xenophobia and hate crimes”.

Cllr Grover read out an email he received from a distressed resident, describing herself as a British-born Asian who has lived in St Albans since the age of five.

The woman said that on the Saturday after the referendum result, she and her family caught a train to St Pancras where there were two seated women, aged about 60, who refused to make space for them.

During a conversation between the pair, one looked directly at her and said that the referendum result was “brilliant. Now all the ******* foreigners can go home.”

The local mum said she was shocked as, apart from the fact she had never been the victim of a racial attack, abuse or name calling, “I was very aware that my seven year old was in earshot.”

The woman said the incident has “stuck” with her, and she is now more aware of who is around her, and her children, adding, “The very thought of my girls being subject to racial name calling or worse terrifies me.”

However, she praised friends, neighbours and the school community for “taking me under their wing and making sure I was OK, even insisting on walking me home on one occasion”.

Cllr Chris White also noted that on June 23, “a member of our [council] staff was abused on polling day for having a foreign-looking surname. I am appalled at that sort of reaction.”

Cllr Roma Mills said she had made the proposal in response to locals, “who have been dismayed and appalled by the apparent increase in racist abuse being reported following the European Union referendum.

“Residents wanted to see their councillors speak up against racism, xenophobia and hate crime, and to make it clear that such things have no place in our community.

“I’m sad really.

“Even in St Albans we have seen unpleasant examples of racist abuse and xenophobia where people have been described as vermin and told to ‘go home’. Well, this is their home.”

Council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, said that while he did not want, “to exaggerate or inflame the issue, there have been incidents in St Albans. “Particularly in the week after the referendum, some of them involving people who work here or for the council, and particularly what is different is that members of our community who have East European features, voices or names are experiencing xenophobia.

“The Brexit debate doesn’t give people the right to express their xenophobic sentiments.”

He said that while he “appreciated this motion is symbolic, that doesn’t make it any less important.”

Herts county council has also condemned all acts of racism and hatred.

At a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, July 19, councillors spoke about ensuring that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources to tackle the issue. The proposal received unanimous support.

Cllr Richard Thake, cabinet member for community safety, said: “We are proud that here in Hertfordshire we live in a diverse and tolerant society in which racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place.

“I am happy to say that we have little evidence of this being a major problem in the county but I do want to reassure all people living lawfully here that they are valued members of our community, irrespective of their beliefs, nationality or ethnic origins.

“They make a great contribution to this diverse and vibrant area and they are very welcome here.”

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