David Harrison, Telegraph (London), February 12, 2011
A voluntary group banned from council meetings after its chairman was accused of racism for using the phrase “jungle drums” has now been reinstated.
The group, a health watchdog, has also had its funding restored after The Sunday Telegraph highlighted what the local MP described as a “ludicrous” case.
Wiltshire council asked all members of the Wiltshire Involvement Network to undergo “diversity training” but they refused and the local authority has admitted it has no powers to force them to do so.
Phil Matthews, deputy chair of the network, said: “We’ve won and common sense has won. The council has caved in. We refused to apologise because the remark was not racist.”
Councillors are now demanding an inquiry into how the case was allowed to drag on for six months at the taxpayers’ expense.
The council has not, however, rescinded its finding that the “jungle drums” remark was racist, even though the network’s chairman, Anna Farquhar, insisted she used it to mean “gossip” or the “rumour mill”.
The row started in August when Mrs Farquhar, 70, chaired a meeting of WIN at the scout headquarters in Potterne, near Devizes. During a discussion about changes in the NHS, and how rumours about them can spread, she said: “You cannot help the jungle drums.”
Sonia Carr, 50, from Warminster. a member of the county’s Racial Equality Council, who was in the public gallery, intervened and said the phrase was racist.
Mrs Farquhar a former chief executive of the county’s St John Ambulance and ex-trustee of a local Citizens Advice Bureau, apologised immediately for any offence caused.
But Mrs Carr, of Warminster, lodged a formal complaint alleging racism under the Equality Act 2010.
The council launched an investigation, upheld the complaint and last month withdrew funding for WIN’s administration costs.
The group, which represents patients’ interests at council meetings, rejected the racism allegations and, at a meeting last week, the council reinstated the watchdog and its funds, although it said that the remark was “inappropriate”.
Mrs Farquhar, of Potterne Wick, near Devizes, said: “It is of great regret this matter has taken so long to resolve. It has caused me great personal stress and I will be glad to get back to work serving the community.
“I certainly never meant the remark to be racist. I’m not a racist. It was just a remark that was made about stuff going around that people didn’t know about.”
Wiltshire council said the meeting last week was “productive and both organisations agreed to continue to work together to support users and carers”.
Mrs Carr declined to comment.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier article on the “jungle drums” controversy can be read here.]