The Equalities watchdog is to investigate complaints about a national marina and boating company after it publicly apologised “unreservedly” following a public furore when the management of their Bath marina put up “racist”, “discriminatory” and “offensive” signs warning customers about a nearby unauthorised Traveller camp.
As photographs of the signs were shared over the weekend on social media by quick thinking and angry marina residents, British Waterways Marinas Ltd – a commercial subsidiary of the Canal and River Trust who manage the UK’s 2,200 miles of rivers and canals - were quick to act and posted a message on The Travellers’ Times face book page saying that the signs had been “destroyed” and that “lessons must be learned”.
Andrew Rossiter, 45, a boater and ‘new’ Traveller, who lives on the Bath Marina in his boat, spoke to The Travellers’ Times:
“I actually found those signs personally offensive,” said Mr Rossiter.
I am a Traveller who lived in horse-drawn wagons for many years before moving onto a boat. I have many Romany friends from my horse-drawn days, my daughter Priddy – Rose was born in a wagon, and these kinds of signs affect me personally.”
“They help to add to a climate of fear and mistrust of all Gypsies and Travellers – including those who live on boats. They show a blatant disregard for the principles of equality and it beggars belief that Bath Marina would think it was acceptable if someone had put up a sign warning about Jewish or Black people in the area.”
The signs appeared after a group of mobile Travellers occupied part of a nearby public car park. The Travellers remained there for over a week amid rumours that a family member was in the local hospital. Initial reports of trouble in the local press were swiftly dispelled by Mr Rossiter who said: “They are literally a stone’s throw away from us and we didn’t even know they were there until we saw the signs go up. No noise - no trouble.”
Luckily, Mr Rossiter’s daughter, Priddy – Rose, was visiting her dad for the weekend and put pictures of the signs on The Travellers’ Times face book page, which were soon passed onto the Traveller Movement.
“A number of these notices have been put up around Bath Marina and Caravan Park,” said Priddy- Rose.
“This is blatant racism towards the Traveller community, I was horrified to see these today and personally offended. Often prejudice and discrimination against the Traveller community isn't viewed as racism but it is. BWML are a subsidiary of the Canal and River Trust- is this an acceptable behaviour from a charity?”
The response and apology from BWML came too late to stop the Traveller rights campaign charity lodging a complaint with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who later confirmed that it had received a complaint about the signs and was looking into the matter.
A spokesperson for the Traveller Movement said:
“The last acceptable racism strikes again and we are determined to keep on campaigning to root it out to expose and fight it in its many forms.”
“People who say that things like this are trivial just do not get it. Sixty years ago it was common practice for landlords to put up signs saying ‘no dogs, no black, no Irish’. Racism and discrimination still exists for all ethnic minorities, but with Gypsies and Travellers those kinds of signs are still unfortunately ubiquitous and we will continue to work closely with the EHRC to root out what has been often called ‘the last acceptable racism’. It is not acceptable and we are pleased that BWML recognise that.
“We often hear of other caravan site companies unlawfully refusing service to groups of Travellers so we hope that they also inform their marina and caravan park local management of the duties of a commercial provider under the Equalities Act 2010, to avoid any potential future breaches of the law.”
The statement in full from BWML reads:
“We apologise unreservedly for the inappropriate wording of the sign recently erected at Bath Marina and Caravan Park, regarding travellers occupying a nearby site.”
“When the inappropriateness of the onsite message was highlighted it was taken down and destroyed immediately.”
“All staff in BWML have received equality and diversity training, but this is an example of where lessons must be learned to ensure we avoid giving offence to any group of people. Again, we apologise for any offence that we have inadvertently caused.”
The Travellers’ Times contacted Bath and North East Somerset Council, who own the car park. A council spokesperson would not answer questions about whether the Traveller camp was ‘tolerated’ and were provided with waste and toilet disposal, and simply said that the Travellers had “left the site on Sunday”.