HSBC bank has been found guilty of racism after one staff member overheard another say she hated foreigners.
Supervisor Debbie Jones’ remarked that she supported politician Robert Kilroy-Silk because he wanted to ‘get rid of the foreigners’.
But her comments were made in earshot of colleague Ruby Schembri, a 35-year-old Maltese national, who reported the incident and took the bank to an employment tribunal claiming race discrimination.
Mrs Schembri told an employment tribunal that she was in the branch office close to her home in Welwyn Garden City, Herts, when she heard Miss Jones talking to assistant manager Rosemary Johnstone in April last year, just before the general election.
She said: “Debbie asked Rosemary if she supported the Tory or Labour party and bluntly stated ‘I am against immigration’.
“My ears pricked up and then Debbie said ‘I hate foreigners’. I was shocked and offended. Debbie made her statement with real conviction”.
Mrs Schembri, who came to Britain with her husband in 2004, added: “I found Debbie’s racist comment to be offensive and very hurtful. I left the room and was on the counter. I began to cry”.
The employment tribunal in Watford this week ruled that Miss Jones’ remark concerning her support for Mr Kilroy Silk could be construed as racist and ordered that she and the bank pay £750 compensation.
It is one of the first times that a comment not made directly to the individual in question has been found to be racist. In 1986, in the case of De Souza v Automobile Association, the expression ‘give the typing to the wog’ was found not to be racially discriminatatory because it was not directed at the person who made the complaint.
In her witness statement Miss Jones insisted that she had only said she would vote for immigration campaigner Mr Kilroy-Silk because he would get rid of immigrants. She denied using the word foreigners.
But the tribunal took into consideration her statement made shortly after the incident when she admitted saying she supported Mr Kilroy Silk because he ‘would get rid of the foreigners.’
The chair of the tribunal said it was reasonable to infer the remark showed a ‘substantial dislike of foreigners’. A spokesman for HSBC said Mrs Schembri, who now works for Nat West, had won just one out of five of her grounds for complaint.
The tribunal had found against her claims that she had been the victim of sustained racism at the branch and it had impacted her career, he said. “We are a global organisation operating in 76 different countries with 280,000 staff, of which around 70,000 are British. Racism, or any suggestion of it is something we take extraordinarily seriously”, said a spokesman.
He added that Miss Jones had received counselling and was undergoing race awareness training. Mr Kilroy-Silk agreed to leave the BBC in 2004 after he described Arabs as “suicide bombers, limb amputators and women repressors” in a newspaper column.
In January 2005 he quit the UK Independence Party and launched Veritas, which means truth in Latin. During the launch he claimed Britain was being ‘stolen’ by mass immigration. He added that British people were being made to feel that “other cultures were more important than their own and made to feel ashamed of being British”.