Published: 00:01, 07 July 2016
Canterbury Cathedral has issued a grovelling apology after one of its guards told an Argentinian woman: “Dover’s that way, love.”
Mortified bosses at the city landmark have moved swiftly to contain the incident, which happened days after Britain voted to leave the EU.
Just this week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke of “an outwelling of poison and hatred” that has followed the referendum result.
His words now add to the acute embarrassment for Cathedral authorities who maintain that “we want to be welcoming”.
Victim Silvina Fairbrass, dark-haired and of Latin-American appearance, was heading into the Cathedral precincts and needed directions to the Cathedral Lodge.
The mum-of-two, who lives and works in the city, had approached a guard at the main gate when she was met with the offensive jibe.
Cathedral bosses say they have reprimanded the guard – who they have employed for many years – and written a letter of apology to Mrs Fairbrass.
Receiver General, Brigadier John Meardon, said: “This happened at the Cathedral on sensitive days following the referendum.
“This is not how we expect our staff to behave. They should definitely know better.”
Brig Meardon said he had yet to hear back from Mrs Fairbrass who works as a ballet teacher and has her own business, Zumba Fitness.
She said the incident had made her feel she did not want to leave her home.
“I’ve always felt comfortable in this city, people have always been welcoming,” she said,
“But I think since the referendum, unfortunately, there has been a minority who see a platform to voice their opinions against foreigners.”
Mrs Fairbrass has been flooded with support on social media.
Writing on her Facebook page, she says: “Yes, I’m a foreigner living in the UK. I’m also a British citizen, a hard-working person, a mum, a wife, a house owner, a teacher who inspires young people, I’m also an enthusiastic and positive person.
“I can speak two languages, I have two bilingual children, I have an amazing husband and I run my own successful little business.
“So if you decided to shout and make jokes of me, that’s your opinion and I feel sorry for you.”
Her ordeal has prompted an outpouring of anger from other Facebook users.
One writes: “This isn’t a random stranger in the street. He is affiliated to a great institution based on fairness and tolerance.”
Another says: “You must report him. This is really appalling. The Archbishop would be mortified.”
Lambeth Palace has declined to comment on the incident.
However, the Archbishop, who voted to remain in the EU, has spoken out following an increase in reports of racially-aggravated offences since the referendum.
He said this week that “unacceptable” parts of the EU referendum campaign had led to “an outwelling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for many years”, adding: “It is essential… to challenge the attacks, the xenophobia and the racism that seem to have felt to have been made acceptable, at least for a while,” he said.
Brig Meardon said the Cathedral fully accepted the guard’s comments were offensive.
“He is absolutely mortified by it and apologises profusely,” Brig Meardon said. “I think it was said in jest, on the spur of the moment.
“We are extremely disappointed to hear about it, when something like this happens involving our staff.
“We want to be welcoming.”
The incident, on the evening of June 27, comes as city councillors report constituents fearing abuse following last month’s seismic referendum outcome.
Cllr Bernadette Fisher said: “Constituents who have a foreign accent or look different from the perceived norm are voicing their fears of abuse in public places; a fear they may not have felt before in the tolerant community in which we live.”
Silvina Fairbrass has lived in the UK for 12 years, is married to an English husband and is a mother-of-two.
She has expressed sympathy for the Cathedral guard who abused her.
"The day after the incident I didn’t want to leave the house. I was thinking are others thinking this way?” - Silvina Fairbrass
“He made a mistake and he has apologised and learned his lesson, and I accept that,” she said.
“The Cathedral has been very supportive. They reacted straightaway and very professionally.
“I don’t want this to be a complaint against the church.”
Mrs Fairbrass says she has always been made to feel welcome in the city, but that the referendum result has stirred unpleasant feelings across the country.
“The day after the incident I didn’t want to leave the house. I was thinking are others thinking this way?” she said.
“But I don’t feel that now. Since the referendum, unfortunately, there has been a minority who see a platform to voice their opinions against foreigners.
“But I think that is calming down.”
More by this authorChris Pragnell