Brighton and Hove councillors walk out of meeting in racism row

Posted On 12 Mar 2012 at 8:14 pm

Two councillors walked out of a Community Safety Forum meeting this afternoon (Monday 12 March).

Brighton and Hove City Council Conservative members Tony Janio and Dawn Barnett, who both represent Hangleton and Knoll, left the meeting as the row over travellers rumbled on.

Councillor Janio took exception to remarks made at an earlier meeting which he believed implied that he was racist.

He asked the forum’s chairman Councillor Ben Duncan if he would apologise for those remarks, made last October. Councillor Duncan said no.

Councillor Janio criticised the Green councillor for saying: “Although the evidence seems to show that there had been no more gypsies and travellers visiting the city since 2011 than in previous years, the debate has begun to spiral out of control to the point where racial harassment and violence towards travellers has become a major and, some would say, the biggest community safety issue facing the city.

“The debate about the council’s policy towards travellers must not stray into racial abuse or harassment.”

Councillor Duncan told the earlier meeting that he was increasingly concerned that some meetings and demonstrations in the city had fuelled exactly that sort of language and behaviour.

He urged everyone, especially councillor members of the forum, who really should know better, to bear in mind their responsibility to respect both the law and the principles of community cohesion when debating these issues.

Disgrace

Councillor Janio said: “For you to imply that Councillor Barnett and I were making racist statements, or that councillors shouldn’t be holding public meetings about an issue affecting residents in their ward, is a disgrace.

“You should be ashamed of yourself and, in our view, you have let yourself and this forum down in a big way.”

Councillor Janio said that Councillor Duncan had made his remarks in a slot set aside for the chairman’s communications which were not supposed to be contentious or political and which were not traditionally debated. This meant that individuals who felt that they were being criticised would not have the opportunity to respond.

Councillor Janio said: “You made what many consider to have been an overtly political speech that attempted to silence democratically elected members from discussing an issue of great importance to our residents.”

He criticised Councillor Duncan for saying: “A good test would be to substitute the word ‘black’ for the word ‘traveller’ when discussing the issue.

“For example, a meeting to discuss the issue of travellers in the city would be as offensive to many as a meeting to discuss the issue of blacks in the city and would probably be illegal too.”

Councillor Janio said: “What a lot of nonsense. If anyone pitched up on Greenleas Park – be they black, white, pink, Martian, traveller or non-traveller – it would still be wrong.

“This is not a race issue and for you to try to it into one is despicable.

“This forum has managed over several years to remain politically neutral. It has stuck to the facts.

“Your statement was politically motivated and until you apologise to the forum, Councillor Barnett and I will not be returning as members.”

Disappointed

After the meeting Councillor Duncan said: “I’m really disappointed. It’s a shame that Councillors Janio and Barnett are not going to participate in the forum’s activities.

“It’s a bit of a dereliction of duty. You can’t raise issues of you’re not here.

“I will be writing to the Conservative group leader Councillor Geoffrey Theobald to ask if he will send other members so that the Conservative group can continue to show the interest that it has historically always shown in community issues.

“I made very careful comments. They were comments about the issue. What travellers are suffering from is racism.

“That was the point I was making without singling out any individuals.

“I wasn’t trying to stifle debate. I’m happy for people to talk about the issue but not in racist terms.”

  1. Valerie Paynter, Reply

    Raising dust and fomenting discord is a time-honoured Opposition political tactic. Full marks to Cllr Janio for his black propaganda moment…..but to what end?

  2. Uncle Protein Reply

    Maybe Cllr. Duncan would like some travellers to set up camp in his garden? After all, the Greens are so pro-traveller that I am sure Mr. Duncan would be happy to accommodate them!

  3. Ludikris Reply

    How can the handful of people ie Irish Travellers and so called New Travellers living in vans on fields and the council site be the biggest ‘safety’ issue facing the city? How much money and time is wasted cleaning up after and evicting these people who pose little threat to anyone except to our pockets. The real threats to our safety are elsewhere.

  4. Uncle Protein Reply

    I work for the Environment Agency, and we have been prohibited from kick-sampling at certain sites as travellers, who have set-up camp in certain areas, fire air guns and occasionally shot guns at us when we tried to do our jobs, that are funded by the tax payer.

    I am angry at the legal disparity that allows one small group of individuals to consistently break the law without any kind of sanction.

    Time for the Greens to urgently review their policies on ‘travellers’z

  5. Valerie Paynter, Reply

    The Greens should recognise that their position is open to misinterpretation.

    Reminds me of the parent who smiles indulgently when little Tony scribbles all over the wall…he’s expressing himself creatively and might be psychologically damaged if reprimanded and anyway he might become a famous artist one day.

    In spite of doing the right thing in pursuing legal evictions, there is insufficient sympathy for residents or recognition of the distressing impact travellers impose on local populations.

    In North America mobile home living is an accepted way of living. Indeed, post New Orleans destruction, vast numbers of its homeless victims were re-housed by the government in mobile homes. The American term ‘trailer trash’ comes from the snobbery about generally low-income populations living in mobile homes.

    But proper mobile homes on permanent sites in community clusters can provide starter homes of a properly affordable nature. And the people in them are not ‘travellers’,’tinkers’,’gypsies’ or anything other than full-on residents.

    I wonder how many ‘travellers’ are just disenfranchised poor and how many are as wicked as people like Cllrs Janio and Barnett seem to rather hysterically paint them.

    That said, the Greens do not have an appropriately bad word to say for people ruthlessly driving their vehicles into parks and open spaces…they just quietly go about pursuing the legal remedies to remove them. If they really do feel for the residents affected, it is not being heard.

    The Greens provide open goals for the likes of Janio and Barnett to slam their vitriol into. And that is bad politics.

  6. Aaa Reply

    I am not sure that Cllr Ben Duncan should use phrases such as ‘blacks in the city’ in whatever context and especially not to make his own cheap shots.

  7. Clive Reply

    Uncle Protein: I’m not a lawyer but firing air guns and shot guns at anyone is most definitely against the law. Are you saying such such incidents occured, were reported and were not acted on?

    Cllr Barnett thought it was perfectly OK to encourage travellers to trespass in Green-held wards, and Cllr Janio supported her. A strange attitude from the party of law and order. And what is this latest show of petulance from them going to achieve for the residents of any part of the city?

    Val Paynter is right that the Greens need to mount a robust defence of the use of due legal process in securing residents’ rights, as against the rabble-rousing, self-publicising antics of the Hangleton pair.

Leave a Reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.