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Thanet District Council first in UK to refuse anti-racism motion debate

The calls come after the council declined to debate a motion put forward about condemning racism, xenophobia and hate crimes.

The idea to debate these issues has been suggested to councils across the UK by human rights campaign group Amnesty International.

Margate Campaigner Sheree Bell. Picture Paul Amos FM4441426

Margate Campaigner Sheree Bell. Picture: Paul Amos

The group says it doesn’t know of any other council that has declined to support the motion and at least 25 councils have already passed or are about to pass the motion.

Amnesty International’s Against Hate campaign manager Laura Trevelyan said: “We’re sorry to hear Thanet councillors voted not to debate the motion which condemned hate crimes, xenophobia and racism.

“It’s clear that some of the divisive rhetoric used by political figures in the run-up to the EU referendum left some people feeling licensed to express racist, xenophobic views in a way we haven’t seen for decades.

Margate Central Ward councillor Iris Johnston

Margate Central Ward councillor Iris Johnston. Picture: Paul Amos

“Councils are very well placed to stand up against that and bring communities back together, and we would urge Thanet council to think again.”

The decision not to debate the issue was supported almost unanimously at the full council meeting on July 14, with only Cllr Suzanne Brimm and Cllr Ash Ashby supporting the debate put forward by Cllr Iris Johnston.

People in the public gallery shouted at the councillors, calling them a disgrace to Thanet, while other onlookers walked out.

"This was a huge and sorry message to send out to our community and does nothing to promote our beautiful Isle as a fair and welcoming place, it is distasteful and negative” - Sheree Bell

Cllr Iris Johnston (Margate Central Ward) said: “I thought it was a simple thing to bring to the council with a positive speech to say let’s continue to do the good work we have been doing and stand up against these sort of issues.

"I was extremely disappointed Cllr Lin Fairbrass didn’t want to support the debate, instead saying positive work was already in place. It might be in place but implementation of it needs to be seen being done”.

Director at the Active Minds Active Lives charity Sheree Bell says she works at grass roots level in the community and hears stories that others don’t.

She said: “People do not report these crimes because of reasons such as their language, the understating of the justice system and the fear of recrimination. This is not the society I want to live in.

“On July 14, I was one of the people sitting in the public gallery at the full TDC meeting.

“I was there because I had urged the council to discuss the issue of xenophobia, hate crime and racism in Thanet via Amnesty International’s Against Hate campaign.

“I was disappointed that the council voted almost unanimously not to carry forward the motion. This was a huge and sorry message to send out to our community and does nothing to promote our beautiful Isle as a fair and welcoming place, it is distasteful and negative.”

Chris Wells, Thanet District Council leader. Picture Gary Browne

Chris Wells, Thanet District Council leader. Picture: Gary Browne

Thanet District Council leader Cllr Chris Wells said: “The council welcomes the positive principles contained within the motion and does not condone any form of hate crime, racial abuse or xenophobic behaviour.

“A cross-party decision was taken at cabinet not to debate this motion as these are principles already deeply embedded within our policy and practice, inherent in our work every single day.

“The council is already directly engaged working with partners in delivering programmes supporting all members of our community, fulfilling all those principles listed in the motion.

“We are thus already fully committed to improving community cohesion, working closely with partners to ensure a robust approach to address any issues. Intelligence at both local and county level does not show any significant increase in reporting of hate crime.

“We are out there in streets and communities every day working with local people to prevent problems arising, which is far more important than any additional motions the council may debate. That is the best and simplest way to celebrate diverse communities, with actions not words.”

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