'Racist' remarks probed by police
Police are investigating remarks made by a councillor at a meeting to discuss plans for a travellers' site.
Robert Fraser, county councillor for Groby and Ratby, said Romanians would "stick a knife in you as soon as look at you", and that some Europeans "make the Irish look like complete amateurs".
Travellers' spokesman, Alfred Kefford, said he was outraged by the Conservative councillor's "racist" comments.
He heard them after footage of the meeting was posted on video website YouTube. He complained to the police.
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Today, Coun Fraser, a former county council member for equality, apologised and said he regretted the "spur-of-the-moment" remarks.
He made the comments at a Groby Parish Council meeting called after the Leicester Mercury revealed plans for a site for about 50 caravans off Sacheverell Way, in Groby.
Responding to an audience member who spoke about the level of knife crime allegedly linked to the travelling community, Coun Fraser said: "The Romanians, they'll stick a knife in you as soon as look at you.
"There might be some good ones. Forgive me if there are any Romanians here (the audience laughs) and hopefully that's a 'no' because I wouldn't get out of here (he points at a walking stick). I'm a bit slow."
He also told the audience: "By gosh, some of these European ones, they make the Irish look like complete amateurs and I would dread, I would dread to see them in Groby."
Mr Kefford, chairman of the Leicester Gipsy Council Liaison Group, said: "I'm appalled, shocked and disgusted at these comments.
"They are racist. A lot of damage has been done and seeing these comments on YouTube, of all places, is very, very hurtful.
"If they were directed at any other ethnic group, there would be a public outcry.
"We are trying hard to break down barriers between the gipsy community and the public, and things like this certainly do not help.
"We are a race of people who have been around for hundreds of years. We are an ethnic group."
Calling for Coun Fraser to resign, he said the comments were akin to "incitement to racial hatred", adding: "To do it in a public place is totally unacceptable."
Dr Ion Jinga, Romanian ambassador to the UK, said the comments were "extremely regrettable and totally unfair". He said: "I would like to remind your readers that Romanians are citizens of the European Union, like the British people are."
"Romanians living in the UK are, in an overwhelming majority, highly skilled, hard workers and respectful to the laws, just as the few thousands of British citizens living in Romania are."
After being contacted by the Mercury, Coun Fraser said he "bitterly regretted" the "spur-of-the-moment comment" which "may have caused offence to the majority of decent, law-abiding Romanian people".
He said: "There was no intent on my part to introduce any racist element into the meeting, but I accept I may have allowed my judgement to become momentarily clouded.
"I would like to stress my awareness of the fact that an increasing number of Britons now holiday perfectly safely in Romania each year, and if the opportunity arose, I would quite happily holiday there myself. I don't regard myself as a racist in any way. In fact, I have an excellent record of positively working with, and on behalf of, Leicestershire's minority groups in my time as county council member for equalities."
Coun Fraser said he did not know the meeting was being filmed and said he did not think he should resign over the matter.
Hundreds of residents attended the meeting at Groby Community College on January 8 to discuss the travellers' site plan by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.
Among the speakers was Conservative MP for Charnwood, Stephen Dorrell.
He told the Mercury he thought Coun Fraser's comments were "extremely unwise", but not racist.
He said: "I don't think what he said should necessarily lead to his resignation, but his words were extremely unwise and plain wrong in my view.
"Romania is a country of 50 or 60 million people and the majority of those are fine, law-abiding people.
"I don't think it's racist because I don't think that Romanians are a race of people. The comments are anti-Romanian."
Peter Batty, parish council chairman and borough councillor for Groby, also spoke at the travellers' site meeting.
He said: "I think you must look at the context of that meeting. There was a lot of anxiety from a lot of people. Maybe Coun Fraser shouldn't have responded that way. I can't defend that comment. I wouldn't have said that, but I can't tell you what was going through somebody else's mind."
There were nearly 400 visits to the website footage of the meeting on YouTube. It has now been removed.
A police spokeswoman said: "The matter referred to on YouTube was brought to our attention on Friday.
"We are now carrying out an investigation to establish if any criminal offences have been disclosed."
A spokesman for the county council said the comments "will be formally investigated within the council's procedures".