STEVEN DOWNES, the editor of Inside Croydon, reports on a disturbing story that a leading Croydon councillor did not want you to see
Community and political leaders in Croydon have today called on London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Tory candidate as London Assembly member for Sutton and Croydon, Steve O’Connell, to condemn the casual attitude to racism exhibited in an article and picture on a website edited by a local Conservative party activist and campaigner.
Steven George-Hilley, husband of Croydon councillor Clare Hilley, has already received widespread criticism for the article, which was posted on the scurrilous right-wing political website London Spin.
In the article, Steven George-Hilley described how he had been at a “posh Chelsea watering hole” last summer when he had his £200 iPhone stolen.
Under the headline “Young Tory: Gypos Mugged me on King’s Road”, George-Hilley made references to “a cunning gang of gypsies” and “gypsy magic”, and illustrated the article with a picture of the blacked-up face of Papa Lazarou, a character from The League of Gentlemen.
Even commenters on London Spin were quick to condemn the piece. “Could this have been written in a more racist fashion?” one reader asked.
Despite the widespread disgust and criticism, George-Hilley was slow to remove the article, instead threatening journalists with legal action and “substantial asset seizure” should they dare to ask questions about the piece.
Steven George-Hilley was accused of “ignorance and racism” by a spokesperson for the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, who said: “We can all agree that theft is unacceptable, but does the editor of London Spin agree that racism towards Gypsies and Travellers is also unacceptable?”
It was nearly a week before the article was taken off-line, when George-Hilley issued an apology and said that he had agreed to make an undisclosed payment to charity to compensate for the distress caused.
The lack of sensitivity in publishing the article is emphasised by the fact that it appeared less than a month after many parts of London, Croydon included, were ablaze during the riots, leaving areas such as London Road and Waddon still highly volatile.
Hamida Ali, a local community leader from Waddon who was defeated in the 2010 council elections by Clare Hilley, said that her group was “appalled” by the “unacceptable” web article. She believes that Steven George-Hilley’s attitudes also raise serious questions for his wife, the local Conservative party councillor.
“The Waddon Labour Action Team was shocked and appalled to read this. Use of language and imagery like this is completely unacceptable – and is never justified. The people responsible for this clearly didn’t think so, which reveals troubling attitudes towards people from different ethnic backgrounds,” Ali said.
“We are conscious that these were the actions of her husband and not the Waddon councillor but with his activities within the wider Tory party it’s understandable that Waddon constituents might want to be reassured that these same attitudes would not be reflected in their treatment by their councillor.”
Today, Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, called on Mayor Boris Johnson and GLA member Steve O’Connell to condemn publicly such casual attitudes to racism as exhibited in the George-Hilley article.
Clare Hilley, a former reality TV star and leading official in Conservative Future, the Tory youth wing, and Steven George, who works for Weber Shandwick, a leading West End public relations firm, were married in 2010.
Clare George-Hilley has been a councillor for Waddon ward since 2009. She is one of three councillors in Waddon who before the May 2010 elections issued leaflets promising to oppose any plans for an incinerator to be built “in or on the borders of Croydon”. Earlier this year, Clare George-Hilley voted in favour of what she now refers to euphemistically as an “energy recovery facility”, better known as an incinerator.
Her husband’s London Spin tries to present itself as a “newspaper”, though it is a barely disguised, politicised attack site, used for settling scores or for promoting the work of Conservative Future.
The site’s exaggerated sense of its own importance is demonstrated ably in this paragraph on the website’s “About” page:
“London Spin is on [sic] of the UK’s leading newspapers [sic; does Rupert Murdoch know?], delivered in print [?] and online to over 7,000 unique readers every week [yes: that's less than 1,000 per day; even the Morning Star does better than that]. Our editorial team have [sic] professional journalistic qualifications.”
We asked the George-Hilleys a series of questions about the handling of the racist article, including whether there had been any disciplinary action taken within Conservative Future or the Tory party generally, and whether Boris Johnson had seen the article and what action he took.
We also put this to them: “Given that Clare George-Hilley is a councillor in a London borough with a rich ethnic mix, can you advise what action she has taken to reassure the residents of Waddon that she dissociates herself entirely with such racist behaviour? And has Councillor George-Hilley ever done anything to condemn, publicly, this conduct?”
In the past 12 months, the George-Hilleys have commissioned expensively drafted letters from the famous London law firm Carter Ruck threatening legal action against Inside Croydon when they took a dislike to the tone of some of our articles, which we believed posed legitimate questions about their conduct, whether in public service or in the public eye. Such as this one.
On each occasion, the baseless and vexatious threats of legal action against this website have been withdrawn. On each occasion, one part of the George-Hilleys’ complaint was that they had not been given adequate opportunity to respond to the questions we had raised.
Although we understand that the George-Hilleys received our questions, we have received not so much as an acknowledgement to our email asking about the racist website article, or whether Waddon Councillor Clare George-Hilley condones such conduct.
- HT for the lead on this story to Political Scrapbook
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
- Councillor Hilley backs Inside Croydon crossing campaign (insidecroydon.com)
- Wake up Waddon: this really is a £1bn incinerator (insidecroydon.com)
- Accountability? Not from Kenley’s £115,000pa councillor (insidecroydon.com)