Published: 00:01, 11 May 2014 |
A UKIP candidate standing in the European election has denied being alarmist after saying there were "no-go" areas in Kent because of the presence of gangs of Eastern European immigrants.
The claims have been denounced by the Liberal Democrats, who say they are inflammatory and could provoke vigilante attacks.
UKIP candidate Janice Atkinson made her comments following police raids across the county earlier this week in an operation targeting sexual exploitation gangs.
The raids in Margate, Folkestone, Dover and Gravesend led to a number of arrests. The 22 suspects were Roma immigrants originally from Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
In a press release responding to the operation, Janice Atkinson - who is one of UKIP's top candidates in the south east region - said she feared reprisals and appealed for calm:
"Kent is on the frontline, both in border terms and where gangs are choosing to settle.
"The UK Border Agency is under-resourced and immigration officers cannot ask EU migrants how long they are planning to stay.
"There are now no-go areas of Kent and this is unacceptable."
Asked where she considered these no-go areas were, she identified areas of Margate, Medway and Gravesend.
"If you go to Cliftonville [Margate] after dark, it is a no-go area.
"People feel very unsafe in Margate. I have been down there myself and stood on street corners.
"It is the presence of young men who jostle women which is quite menacing. I have seen it in Gravesend, too."
Asked if she considered her remarks to be alarmist, she said: "People have come to me with tales of intimidation and I try to persuade them to go public but they feel they can't. It worries me."
"There are now no-go areas of Kent and this is unacceptable" - Janice Atkinson
In her press release, she said the situation was the result of unmanaged mass migration and the criminal activity of Eastern European gangs was "the tip of the iceberg."
"Gang masters are operating illegal workers in the agriculture and food processing businesses.
"Ninety per cent of ATM [cash machine] crime is committed by Romanian gangs and drug and gun crime is mainly run by Eastern Europeans."
"A consequence of this is that decent, hardworking, law abiding migrants are being lumped together with a criminal minority, this is unfair to everybody."
The comments drew a rebuke from Anthony Hook, a Liberal Democrat candidate also standing in the European election in the south east.
He said: "It is shocking. This is jumping on a band wagon over a serious issue of child trafficking. We do not need Janice Atkinson to tell us to keep calm.
"The only person suggesting there could be vigilante attacks is her. These are reckless and irresponsible remarks."
Jasper Gerard, the Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate for Maidstone and the Weald, said Ms Atkinson should be sacked.
"Everything about her statement is extremely inflammatory and I believe she should consider her position."
Kent Police said the raids focused on an "organised criminal network" preying on "young girls from the Slovakian Roma community".
Every morning at 10am we play you an hour of tunes from the 90s. We call it, #WeLoveThe90s.
Play 'Say It' with Garry and Laura on kmfm Breakfast and you could win £1,000!
Wake up to kmfm Breakfast with Garry and Laura - it's Kent's alarm call.
A guide for your future. For year 11 students in Kent and Medway. Click here for the e-edition.
Education, Training & Childcare is a special supplement published by KM Media Group four times a year. Click here for latest e-edition.
Get the latest food and drink news, recipes from some of the nation's top chefs plus updates from Kent's vineyards and breweries.
Search in your local area to find your perfect partner in Kent, with FreshStart Dating! PLUS, register for free!.
Find out what's going on in the garden, with Kent expert Lucy Hewett's weekly update.
Buy pictures that you've seen in a KM newspaper, or send in a picture and we will place it on our photo sales website so that you can purchase a super, unique gift.