The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been accused of inciting racial hatred.
Patel, in a Zoom meeting with Jewish leaders, said she was determined to stamp out the “criminality that takes place and that has happened through Traveller communities and unauthorised encampments”. She said, “We have seen criminality, violence taking place. We saw one particular Traveller criminal – I can't go into the details of this – but, basically, we saw a police officer that was effectively murdered through a robbery that took place by a Traveller family,” she said.
Lord Woolley, condemned the comments as “wrong, reckless and at worst dangerous, because this type of language easily stirs up racial hatred”. Woolley, who was adviser to Theresa May’s Racial Disparity Unit, told The Independent that the crime rate among Travellers was “lower than the national average”.
“So to demonise a whole community as the home secretary has done is simply wrong, reckless and at worst dangerous, because this type of language easily stirs up racial hatred. This is a community which, along with the Roma community, is perhaps the most abused and demonised in society and which most needs respect and protection under the law. I hope that, on reflection, the home secretary will see that this potentially stirs up racial hatred and will be humble enough to apologise.”
80 leading academics, race equality organisations, and politicians have signed a letter to Patel, urging her to retract her “hate speech”. The protest letter reads: “We consider your comments during this meeting to constitute hate speech as it brands an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent. You have a duty as a public figure to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and encourage good relations between all groups.” It adds: “We call for an immediate retraction of these comments, and a public apology made directly to all Traveller, Gypsy and Roma people.”
The killing, and the teenagers’ lack of remorse, was condemned by leading members of the Traveller community, but immediately provoked fears that it was being exploited to stir up longstanding prejudices.