Published: 17:12, 21 April 2020
| Updated: 17:43, 21 April 2020
A campaign group promoting deeper bonds between the UK and Nepal says "words are no longer enough" after two arson attacks.
The UK Nepal Friendship Society (UKNFS) has written to Kent Police and senior politicians in the county after two suspicious blazes saw vehicles belonging to members of the Nepalese community destroyed in Maidstone last week.
Responding to the letter from the UKNFS, Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant told KentOnline she would be raising the matter directly with Kent Chief Constable Alan Pughsley this week.
Ms Grant expressed her condemnation of the "abhorrent and deeply upsetting" incidents in Barming, whose victims included a retired Gurkha soldier and NHS staff working at Maidstone Hospital. One of the families targeted expressed their belief that they had been victims of a Covid-19-inspired hate crime.
"Our Nepalese community in Maidstone are a precious part of the fabric of our town and are much loved and respected," Ms Grant said.
"Their invaluable contribution to our community has never been better exemplified than by the number of Nepalese people working on the frontline of our battle against coronavirus in our hospitals and social care settings.
"Nobody should ever be subject to any form of racial prejudice, abuse or hatred and those who perpetrate such heinous crimes should be brought to justice. I will therefore be raising this as a matter of urgency with Kent Police’s chief constable this week."
In his letter, which was also sent to leaders of the county and borough councils, UKNFS chief executive Alan Mercel-Sanca said the attacks on the Nepalese community last week were "symptomatic of a much broader engrained problem of anti-Asian racism" in Maidstone and elsewhere in Kent.
He went on to write: "The targets of these – what I am sure you will agree – criminal cowards are, incredibly, retired Gurkhas and their families.
"The Gurkhas are rightly recognised for their heroism, loyalty and sacrifice, to be in the public consciousness known as ‘more British than the British.’ It is now time for our British state – Whitehall, Westminster, as well as Kent and Maidstone – to respond effectively, unequivocally, to repay that trust and sacrifice."
Mr Mercel-Sanca has called upon the authorities to come up with a joint approach based on closer monitoring of the levels of crimes targeted at the Nepalese community and renewed efforts to educate younger people about the role the Gurkhas have played in British life.
Angela Limbu, a medical student whose uncle's Ford Focus was destroyed last week, has expressed her family's gratitude for the many messages of support which have flooded in since we reported on the fires.
She said: "We're very overwhelmed with all the support and positive feedback from others. I hope this awareness can continue and we don’t have to hear about these awful events again."
Kent Police's district commander for Maidstone, Chief Inspector Ray Quiller, said: "Thankfully, this type of incident is rare but I understand the impact it has had on the community.
"When the arsons were reported, our patrols immediately attended and searched the area for suspects. There were no arrests at the time and officers continue to examine all lines of enquiry including the review of available CCTV.
"The investigating officer remains in contact with the two victims and we have worked with partners, including the local council, to update key contacts within minority communities to reassure residents of our efforts to track down those responsible for the arsons and prevent further offences."
Anyone who may have information about the fires is urged to call 01622 604100 quoting crime reference 46/65247/19.