21 April 2014

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Police investigate newspaper’s ‘gypsy’ billboard

A weekly newspaper could face prosecution over a billboard which read ‘Gypsies could be on your doorstep’.

The story appeared in the Weston, Worle and Somerset Mercury on 22 March in relation to a local authority’s proposals to see gypsy camps built next to new homes in the area.

The matter has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service after a councillor reported the matter to police under the Race Relations Act claiming it could incite racial hatred.

The Mercury recalled the billboards from shops as soon as editors were made aware and printed an apology, along with a letter from Green Party Councillor Tom Leimdorfer who has since said he does not want the newspaper to face prosecution.

In a letter to the paper he said when he first saw the poster he looked at it again and in his mind replaced the word ‘Gypsies’ with ‘Blacks’ or ‘Jews’.

He wrote: “When I asked the newsagent to remove the offensive poster, she told me she did not wish to upset the Mercury. So I removed it and reported my theft to the police, at the same time as reporting what I believe to be a contravention of the Race Relations Act. I don’t break the law lightly.

“I am pleased to say I had strong support from many, including local councillors and the police. I am also pleased that the Mercury acted the same day to recall all their offending posters. I accept that the poster was thoughtless, rather than deliberately racist, but I want to see a culture in which such wording is unacceptable.”

He added that it was the job of newspapers to report on controversial topics and not their job to fan racial prejudice.

In a statement Avon and Somerset Constabulary said: “On Thursday 22 March police received a number of complaints about posters being used to promote that day’s edition of the Weston Mercury.

“Police officers made contact with the newspaper who had already been contacted by a complainant.  The newspaper had taken the decision to withdraw their posters with immediate effect.

“They subsequently printed an apology in the next edition as well as a letter from the original complainant.”

The newspaper’s company Archant did not wish to comment.

The CPS is now deciding whether to press charges.

3 Comments

  1. Subbed Out

    Seems a pretty bald statement of fact to me. ‘Gypsies could be on your doorstep’ sounds like a very public spirited headline in giving local residents a warning and time to protest.

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  2. Ex-HDM Sub

    Sorry Subbed Out, but what you have written has echoes of Tubbs and Edward from The League of Gentlemen!

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  3. Anon

    It’s all in the interpretation. It could be read as either a statement of fact or a ‘warning’ of sorts, depending on your mindset.
    Nothing wrong with the bill – you can’t legilate for differences in peoples’ brains.

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