Sunderland Echo praised as 'trusted voice' for 'thoughtful' coverage of city racial tensions

The Sunderland Echo has been praised as a “trusted voice” for its coverage of racial tensions within the city.

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 11:14 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 2:04 pm
A new report concludes that racial tensions and the far right's external influence in Sunderland have been reduced over the last three years.

The newly-published Commission for Countering Extremism report highlights the legal difficulties the paper faced in covering protests over the last three years and our “thoughtful approach” towards what information we could safely publish.

Sunderland City Council and Northumbria Police’s response to the “tense atmosphere” is also commended in the report.

The commission’s 144-page Challenging Hateful Extremism document included Sunderland in its analysis of such problems in a number of locations nationwide.

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The report traces concerns from September 2016 when “a woman alleged she had been gang raped by a group of Middle-Eastern men”.

After the Crown Prosecution Service advised against a prosecution owing to a lack of evidence, protests were fuelled by Canadian media group Rebel Media and far right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, with 13 marches held in just over a year.

With the alleged victim opting not to waive her right to anonymity, “the established local press such as the Sunderland Echo could not report on the matters due to criminal justice reporting rules”.

The report adds: “This made social media disinformation, often emanating from outside the UK, impossible to counter for a considerable time.”

A second wave of protests began in May 2018 by Justice for Women and Children after four more rape complaints were made.

The report states: “We commend the response of the local council and police.

“Having learnt from their response to the first campaign, as well as enforcing the law, they made a concerted effort to improve community engagement when the Justice for Women and Children campaign was at its height.

“They staged public meetings between the police, council and residents to foster dialogue and counter some of the misinformation, as well as support victims.

“They also drew up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to put boundaries on the acceptability of protesters behaviour and reduce the protests’ volatility.

“According to a senior police officer, the MoU worked ‘well’.

“In addition, we praise the thoughtful approach taken by the Sunderland Echo to be a trusted voice putting verified information into the public domain locally.”

The report stresses that “many protesters were not motivated by hate”, had “concerns about their safety” and “that far right agitators exploited these local grievances”.

It adds: “While some small-scale protests continue with a focus on ‘yellow vests’ and ‘free Tommy’, the grievances about the placement of asylum seekers are being resolved through resident engagement led by the city council and it is agreed that tensions and the far right’s external influence have been reduced.”