Racist graffiti sprayed in Ivybridge

By Philip Churm   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Wednesday 10th November 2021 10:05 am
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An Ivybridge resident has pledged to tackle far-right activists who have been daubing racist graffiti on walls.

Musician Thom Hughes decided to raise awareness of the problem after several swastikas were spray-painted around the town centre. 

But when the 20-year-old posted pictures and his concern about the neo-Nazi images on a local Facebook group he was shocked to find some residents were unsympathetic.

Last year counter-terrorism police declared that right-wing extremism was the UK’s fastest growing threat.

Mr Hughes first became aware of the racist graffiti on Halloween. “I saw a couple of swastikas around the place – in different places, and that’s all I saw,” he said.

“But then a few days after that, because of what people had told me, I saw some other things, specifically anti-black graffiti.”

The cashpoint of a branch of Lloyd’s bank in the town was among the places targeted with a painted swastika. That has since been removed but, just around the corner, on the walls of a pharmacy, are others.

There are so many racist logos in a short passage way to a private car park that Mr Hughes  hadn’t noticed them all before.

He says the sight of the far-right insignia a week earlier took him by surprise.  “I was with my friend that night,” he said. 

“It was Halloween night, and you don’t expect to see that stuff. I’ve not seen too much of it, if any of it, around here.”

“And then I went into the village the next day. I went to go shopping and they were still there. And then that’s when I was a bit concerned.

“Why haven’t these been removed? There’s other graffiti not like this, but other graffiti that’s been removed the very morning after it’s been done. And this is what I perceive to be far-right extremism and it’s still here.”

He says it could be the work of high-spirited youths but insists that does not take away the impact such graffiti has.

“I’d like to think that it’s kids messing around, but my great aunt, who is Jewish, described it very well. She said, ‘It’s what we call ethnic memory. And once something has happened to any group of people, any reminder of it is enough to upset us.’”

Mr Hughes turned to social media to express his concerns. He posted images and comments on a local Facebook group. But reactions weren’t all what he expected.

“A few of [the comments] were in complete agreement with me. They were like, ‘Yes, it’s disgusting. It shouldn’t be there. That very clearly represents a far-right symbol.’”

“But a lot of people said, ‘why don’t you clean it?

“I don’t think they really thought about the fact that a Jewish kid cleaning up swastikas doesn’t really work!

“I mean, maybe there are Jews that would happily do that. I’m not one of them!”

Some graffiti on Fore Street is confined to a small area but a short walk along a popular footpath, under Marjorie Kelly Way, reveals more racist words and images but with a different focus.

“It’s mostly anti-black graffiti,” said Mr Hughes.  The walls of a bridge over the River Erme are daubed with hateful, racist and offensive remarks and images. “The N-word over there,” he said. “It doesn’t look like it’s completed, but it’s still there.

“This is very much targeted at black people. I don’t know what they’re feeling, but this bothers me. This disturbs me.”

Mr Hughes asked what the local authority was doing and was concerned that he hadn’t heard any official reaction. 

We contacted Ivybridge Town Council and Mayor, Cllr Sara Hladkij (West Ivybridge) said they were aware of the racist graffiti and completely condemned it. 

“I really hate the idea that our town is being indoctrinated with this, it is just very, very unpleasant,” said Cllr Hladkij.

“It is the most offensive graffiti that we’ve had to date and as fast as it seems to get dealt with, it’s just appearing again and going on people’s property as well. And it’s just really very distressing to a number of people. Well, I would hope it’s distressing to the whole population of Ivybridge.

“This is not the sort of thing that we come to expect in our town. It is just not acceptable behaviour.

“We have taken action. It might seem as if we are delaying on it, but we’ve tracked down the relevant authorities in the South Hams and Devon County Council and highways.

“Unfortunately, the message we get with graffiti is that it can take up to 28 days before they can deal with it.

“But it’s one thing if it’s just graffiti done by younger people maybe just putting their own mark on the town with their tags, but this has got real hate and racism going on in it. And it is not just everyday graffiti, and we as a town council would much prefer that it is dealt with a lot quicker than 28 days.

“It is putting a really bad vibe in our town and it is just not the message that we want to be giving out. We like to think of ourselves in Ivybridge that we are a very culturally and diverse-aware community here. And I just don’t want these sort of messages being spread out.”

South Hams District Council also expressed concern about the graffiti. Executive member Keith Baldry (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton) said: “We want everyone in our communities to feel safe and racism in any form is not tolerated.

“We’re not aware of any graffiti on any of our property in Ivybridge, but would encourage people to let us know about it by reporting it on our website https://southhams.gov.uk/report and selecting ‘anything else’.

“You can also report hate crime to the police at https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/reporthc

“We work in partnership with the police and will always take steps to remove any offensive or discriminatory graffiti as quickly as possible once we are made aware. For example, on Friday 5 November our officers removed a racist slogan on the A38 underpass as we were on the scene before the Highways Agency could get to it to clear it up.”

When asked what he would do if he caught the person or people painting the far-right graffiti, Mr Hughes’s answer was unexpected. Hugging.

“A lot of people who are anti-Nazi ideology, they say, ‘Oh, punch a Nazi. Kill a Nazi,’ all this kind of stuff.

“I – rather weirdly – say ‘hug a Nazi’ because these people, they need love and a lot of these people, if you just throw them in jail and if you forget about them and if they just receive hate their whole lives for what they’ve done, that’s not going to remove the hatred itself.

“Hate stays there,” he says.

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