Conservative Derbyshire councillor suspended for burka comments

Published on 12th December 2019 by Lucas

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Last modified 19th October 2020

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A Conservative Derbyshire councillor has been suspended after making comments about women who wear burkas.

It’s OK for Borris Johnson to make comments, but not for Cllr Thompson it seems.

Cllr Henry Thompson, who represents the Heanor East ward on Amber Valley Borough Council, made the comments on Facebook over the past couple of days.

The quotes came below a news article from The Telegraph which the Tory councillor had shared on Facebook – bearing the headline “British public back a ban on burka by two to one, poll finds“.

Cllr Thompson, who was elected in 2018, says he made the comments in a personal capacity. He denies that he is racist, has apologised for any offence caused but stands by his comments. Calls had been made for Cllr Thompson’s resignation by leader of the borough council, Labour’s Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams. Leader of the council’s Conservative group, Cllr Kevin Buttery said that Cllr Thompson had been suspended from the party pending an investigation.

Cllr Thompson had said on the post: “People don’t enter public areas wearing biking helmets or balaclavas, so why should burkas be allowed?

“Not to mention the loose style of the whole outfit Muslim women wear… Think how easy it would be to conceal large weapons underneath, assuming it wasn’t a man in ‘complete’ disguise.

“The burka has been banned though elsewhere, so it’s possible and the sooner it’s done the better, as it would otherwise only become more common.

“It’s double standards that if we were to try and undertake our lifestyle characteristics in an Islamic country… it wouldn’t go down well, yet over here the opposite is acceptable.

“I don’t think I would be able to walk around for too long in a balaclava, before being stopped by the police… Even if I said it was my religious dressing.

“The fact is you have no idea who is under a burka, unless you know their voice particularly well.

“I’m sure they are forced into wearing burkas and it’s not out of free will.”

Cllr Thompson, from Langley Mill, also said that there is an “excessive amount” of mosques, which is an attempt to “change our ways”.

He said that “by tradition this country has religious buildings… churches and chapels”.

A study earlier this year found that there are 40,300 churches and chapels in the UK. In 2018, there were around 1,500 mosques or prayer rooms (3.7 per cent of the number of churches and chapels). The burka is a religious veil worn by women of the Islamic faith. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, apart from the eyes, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

Cllr Thompson stands by his comments. When approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Thompson said: “In no way am I racist.

“My comments regarding the burka, as you can see are specifically revolving around security threats, as I mentioned this more than once, and double standards of where the burka is allowed to be worn in situations where equivalent concealing items – such as helmets and balaclavas – are not.

“None of this was me taking a jab at Islam, because I have nothing against people from different backgrounds wanting to be part of a chosen religion.

“However I do share certain thoughts of many others in this country, as indicated above. If this is seen to be as racist in any way, then I would assume that expands to include all those that agree with me – whether in a political/official position or not – as also being ‘racist’?

“If the burka was worn, but had nothing to do with religion, race, gender, social class, sexuality or anything else someone could say forms a type of prejudice, then I would still be against it on the grounds I have indicated, and therefore I stand by my comments made on this matter.”

Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams, Labour leader of the borough council, has called for Cllr Thompson’s resignation, saying: “I was shocked when I heard about the comments.

“I thought the days of BNP style hate speech had gone from Heanor.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to compare the religious dress of the burka with a balaclava and I call on him to do the honourable thing and resign.

“I have no doubt that his leader Kevin Buttery will agree that there is no place in our society for this sort of blatant racism against any person no matter what religion or race they are from.

“We all sign the election compact prior to being elected and if that means what it says then zero tolerance should mean expulsion and resignation.

“We have to be seen as leaders for our groups and I would expect nothing less from all parties.”

In response to the allegation of hate speech, Cllr Thompson said: “I did not intend to offend anyone or any religious group and apologise unreservedly if I have come over in an insensitive way.”

Cllr Kevin Buttery said: “Amber Valley Conservative Association takes all complaints of any type of discriminatory behaviour or comments extremely seriously.

“This matter will be fully investigated in accordance with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

“I have suspended the Conservative whip from Cllr Henry Thompson whilst an investigation is undertaken.

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment further until that process has been completed.”