POLICE are investigating after a barber was subjected to racist taunts and threatened with violence for flying a St George’s Cross flag outside his shop.
Keith Hales, 58, put up the English national flag, alongside an Italian flag, outside his Leith Walk shop in preparation for the Leith Flag Festival starting today. The Englishman said he was expecting a “bit of banter” ahead of last night’s international, won 3-2 by England, but was shocked when passers-by stopped to shout abuse.
He was even visited by a police officer and council official after complaints his display was offensive and claims he was asked to take it down.
He said: “I couldn’t believe how angry people were. At first I thought it was quite funny in the sense that I didn’t expect it and was really surprised by some people’s reaction.
“Then I was getting smartly dressed people telling me to take the F-ing thing down and others saying to ‘F-off back to where you come from’. I had one drunk who was coming right up to my face and threatening to punch my head in if I didn’t take it down.
“A bit of banter is fine and funny but when it comes to people saying ‘we’re going to rip it down and smash your windows’ or ‘watch your back’, it gets a little more sinister.”
The Leith Flag Festival, which runs until Monday, had been organised by the Leith Business Association to celebrate ethnic diversity by businesses flying national flags.
Gordon Munro, Labour councillor for Leith, said he was “disappointed” by the reaction and called for the community to rally round. He said: “I think it is shocking and terrible, it shows a real narrow-mindedness. If it was a Saltire or the national flag of Pakistan, Ireland, Wales or any other country, it wouldn’t happen. It is just because it’s St George’s.”
Foysol Choudhury of the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, said it was everyone’s right to display their national flag without intimidation. “In Scotland, we call ourselves multicultural and we should demonstrate that by allowing people to celebrate their background without fear of reprisals,” he said.
A council spokesman said: “It was suggested to the trader displaying the bunting across the footway may attract unwanted attention and he was offered support and advice by Community Safety Officers. However, at no point was he asked to take it down.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no place for discrimination or abusive behaviour on any grounds, including nationality, in Scotland.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said inquiries were “ongoing”.
‘It’s asking for trouble when the football’s on’
Mark Anderson, 40, an IT consultant from the Shore: “It’s kind of asking for trouble, especially when there’s the football on. I don’t think he would have got any grief if he had done it any other day. Maybe he should’ve put up a Saltire as well.”
Catherine Wainwright, 21, a student from Leith: “I wouldn’t have imagined that happening here. I know that people are patriotic but that is crazy. Would it have happened if it had been a Turkish barbers? It’s not right just because it’s an English flag.”
Derek McConnell, 19, a student from Leith: “I think people have a right to fly their national flag if they want. I don’t think he’s doing any harm. People get over the top when it comes to football.”