Conservative councillor’s ‘racist’ remarks comparing travellers and gypsies to criminals at St Edmundsbury Borough Council meeting leads to apology from Robert Clifton-Brown

Robert Clifton-Brown

Robert Clifton-Brown - Credit: Archant

A Conservative councillor who made “racist” remarks comparing travellers and gypsies to criminals at a St Edmundsbury Borough Council meeting has now apologised.

The comments were made by Robert Clifton-Brown, on a planning application for a travellers’ site off Rougham Hill in Bury St Edmunds, and have been condemned by equality campaigners and his own party.

At the meeting last week, the member for Withersfield was recorded saying: “One last point, I think I will request the officers to look for another site preferably bang next door to a police station.”

He has now stood down from his position on the Development Control Committee.

In an apology sent to the EADT he stated: “I would like to sincerely apologise for any offence caused by my comments and suggestions made about travellers at the St Edmundsbury District Council Development Control meeting on Thursday, February 5. For clarification, I no longer sit on the Development Control Committee.”

Audrey Ludwig, director of legal services for Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, branded the remarks tantamount to “racial harassment”.

She said: “It appears that the councillor was seeking to stereotype all gypsies and travellers as criminals.

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“I believe the councillor himself was the one behaving unlawfully as his comment could reasonably be perceived as racial harassment, as the courts have recognised gypsies as an ethnic group.

“All councillors need to remember that they represent all members of our community.”

Candy Sheridan, regional representative for the Gypsy Council, had similar concerns. She said: “In my opinion these kind of remarks are racist, they seek to cast a whole community as criminals.

“Not only is it not helpful, there is no evidence at all to support these kind of views.

“I think it is against his code of conduct as a councillor and I would suggest he should have no place in making decisions about travellers’ sites in the future.

“It is good to hear that he was picked up (by a council officer) for his remarks, it is unusual for a council to be so quick to act in cases like these.”

She was also keen to stress that “inequality” in planning policy meant the Bury St Edmunds area had an urgent need for traveller sites.

The application for five pitches was made by the Delaney family, who have lived and worked in the area for several years and are currently at a temporary site off Compiegne Way. Despite a recommendation for approval, it was later rejected.

Mr Clifton-Brown told the EADT he intended to stand again for election in May, and was not stepping down as a councillor.

Sara Mildmay-White, chairman of the Conservative group on the borough council, said: “The Conservative Group...wishes to make clear we condemn the language used and the comments made by Mr Clifton-Brown about the travelling community at last week’s Development Control Committee.

“We do not in any way support the views expressed by him at that meeting. We have spoken to Mr Clifton-Brown and he has made it clear that he regrets his outburst.

“Nonetheless we have very clear disciplinary procedures in our group constitution and will be following these on this matter.”