TRAVELLERS say security staff tried to scupper their big gipsy birthday night out.
Jule Lee, 32, claims she and 13 female family members were told they were banned from the MetroCentre in Gateshead – because they were travellers.
The shopping centre has denied such a policy exists and says it welcomes all peaceful shoppers, but Mrs Lee is outraged.
“I just feel so humiliated that someone can say that to me – that we can’t go somewhere just because we’re gipsies,” she said. “I’m really, really furious. We weren’t causing any trouble.
“I’ve been shopping in the MetroCentre for years, I spent thousands in there getting ready for Christmas.”
The mum-of-three, who lives at the Drum Lane Travellers Site, Chester-le-Street, said the women went to the MetroCentre on Saturday for a meal at Frankie and Benny’s and then to see Chalet Girl at the cinema.
She claims security staff approached the women, aged between 16 and 60, after they arrived in taxis and asked them if they were travellers – identifying them by their flamboyant dress.
“We’re a real Romany group. Everyone’s got long dark hair. We had sparkly boots on – we were all dressed up,” she said.
“The security guards said: ‘Are you travellers? Get out’.”
Mrs Lee said the group evaded security staff and went to Frankie and Benny’s where they had booked a table.
“While we were waiting for a table four police officers turned up, but they said they couldn’t move us,” she said. “Frankie and Benny’s didn’t have a problem with 14 people paying for a meal. They didn’t turn us away.
“The staff there were lovely and the meal was very nice.”
The stay-at-home mum thinks the TV programme My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding had put travelling communities in the media spotlight and fuelled negative perceptions among some people.
She said young people from travelling communities often met friends at the MetroCentre.
She admits a minority of the young people may have been cheeky to security guards in the past, but said it was no reason to ban an entire community.
She added: “I’m a very proud woman. I’m proud of who I am. I’m a true Romany gypsy, but I’m from the North East. I was born in Dryburn Hospital and my kids go to Pelton School. I’m a good mother, I don’t cause trouble.”
Members of Mrs Lee’s family went to the MetroCentre on Sunday to complain.
A spokeswoman for the shopping centre said the manager concerned was on holiday but disputed there was any blanket ban on travellers or any other group.
She said: “MetroCentre does not discriminate against any group of shoppers unless they either don’t adhere to the centre’s rules and regulations/by-laws, or if they commit a criminal offence”
A spokesman for Northumbria Police confirmed officers had been involved in the incident. He said: “Police at MetroCentre went to a restaurant at around 6pm on Saturday. Officers found no disorder or crime being committed and no further police action was taken.”