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Editor vows to expose racist council employees after daily’s investigation

An editor has vowed to “name and shame” officials if there is a “witch hunt” for whistleblowers who helped his newspaper expose claims of institutional racism at a city council.

Mike Norton has warned Bristol City Council employees that the Bristol Post is “watching” them, after its investigation uncovered a host of complaints of racist bullying at the authority.

The Post and its sister website Bristol Live launched the investigation after a “significant number” of whistleblowers of black and minority ethnic backgrounds came forward to share their experiences.

The paper uncovered details of complaints from 47 BME employees who said they had no faith in the authority’s systems for reporting instances of racism – a list which grew to almost 70 after council chiefs initially claimed they could do nothing about them unless they were registered as formal grievances.

Bristol racism

It also published details of a leaked email from the council’s crime reduction manager Stuart Pattison, urging staff handling the case of the racist murder of a refugee to “try not to be institutionally racist in my absence” and asking for “no more deaths please”.

The Post has now been told Mr Pattison is to resign after the paper approached the council with the content of the email, which was sent last year.

In an editorial accompanying the Post’s findings, Mike wrote: “I have a message for the council employees who are responsible for the racial discrimination and neglect our investigation highlights.

“If there is any kind of witch hunt or recrimination towards the BME staff who have spoken out then the people responsible will be named and shamed. You may or may not be watching the Post building. But the Post is certainly watching you.”

In November 2017 the Post announced its backing for a campaign to tackle the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the city, with Mike admitting in an editorial at the time that the paper had “too few” ethnic minority journalists and had historically contributed to a “cultural divide” in Bristol.

Four months later the Post issued a front page apology for a 1996 splash it had run which featured headshots of black men looking like “slaves in cages”.

Both the current Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and deputy mayor Asher Craig are black, but Mike said in yesterday’s editorial that he wanted to make it “absolutely clear” this was “not a new issue”.

He wrote: “There has been nothing in our investigation which makes me believe that either Bristol mayor Marvin Rees or deputy mayor Asher Craig were complicit in this treatment of BME staff. Quite the opposite, both Mr Rees and Ms Craig have been outspoken in highlighting the council’s lack of diversity and have been forthright in their ambition to protect and promote BME staff in City Hall.

“What our investigation shows is the size of that task. The institutional racism we expose today runs deep and goes back a long way. It is cultural and historic and seems mainly to sit below the senior team at middle and lower management level.

“In an organisation which employs more than 6,000 people, addressing and changing that culture of casual racism is a huge challenge. And being black gives Mr Rees or Ms Craig no more insight into how to do so. But I am convinced of their resolution to rid the council of its inequalities.”

Responding to the Post’s findings, Mike Jackson, the council’s executive director of resources, said: “Historically equality and diversity hasn’t been anywhere near where it should be at the council. This means that despite recent strides to create an inclusive organisation, attitudes and cultures take longer than desired to change.

“In December 2018 we made it a priority to investigate and seek to resolve all the complaints made by staff, and members of our BME staff led group are working closely alongside our HR team to do this, helping to ensure a fair and balanced approach.

“Our actions as part of our new organisational improvement plan include a review of our HR policies – including a systematic review for the presence of unconscious bias – in consultation with staff led groups, trade unions and managers. We want to be sure that anyone can confidentially raise a concern or make a complaint, and that the processes are robust, supportive and that colleagues have full confidence in using them.

“While we know this work will take time, we will challenge anyone who might intentionally, or unintentionally, undermine this.”