Leader of Stevenage's Polish community condemns 'unprovoked and vicious' racist attack on mother and young children in town supermarket
PUBLISHED: 12:08 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 24 January 2017
Stevenage's Polish community has been left 'shocked and saddened' after a mother and her two young children were subjected to expletives and racially abused while doing their shopping in a town supermarket.
The mother, who wants only to be known as Marta, captured the tail end of the tirade of abuse on a video using her mobile phone so she could report the attack.
She had been shopping with her two children aged three and nine years old in the Aldi supermarket in Fairlands Way on Wednesday, when the man – who she doesn’t know – approached her.
She told the Comet: “I had just met my friend in the supermarket and we were having a conversation.
“This man passed by us and suddenly said: ‘Start speaking English’.
“I said: ‘Excuse me?’
“He then swore at me twice and told me to go back to my country, making an offensive comment about me being Polish.
“I asked him: ‘What’s your problem? Would you like to ask anything else about my country?
“He said: ‘Just go back’.
“I called for the manager and told them what was happening and my husband came over, and then he stopped shouting at us, but he carried on saying things under his breath.”
The video clearly shows the man turning towards her and saying: ‘Just go back’.
It then shows her asking him why he thinks it’s OK to make such comments about her, and he replied: ‘Freedom of speech’.
Marta said in 5½ years living in Stevenage it is the first time she has ever experienced such abuse which “made it so surprising”.
She said: “He can think whatever he wants, but he can’t upset my family and my children.
“Maybe he’s quite scared and upset with everything happening with Brexit, making it easier for small-minded people to think such things.”
Marta – who went to school in London before returning to Poland, but moved back to England for work. The assistant restaurant manager added: “I’ve worked hard here and have a good job. Stevenage has always been a very welcoming place on the whole, that’s what we decided to stay here.
“We want to live here because we really like this country and really like the freedom of this country.”
Marta reported the incident to Herts police, and officers are investigating.
On Sunday Piotr Malecki of Stevenage’s Eastern European Association, which meets at the Together Centre in Exchange Road, condemned the abuse as an ‘unprovoked, vicious, verbal, racist attack’.
He told the Comet: “The whole situation is a terrible shock to our Polish community, especially that two children were also subjected to this nasty racist attack. Luckily – through enormous effort from the community members, sharing words and images on social media – we managed to identify an individual with his full name and his full address. We reported him to the police force in Stevenage and we are waiting for police to contact us back.
“The attacker was a middle aged white male, wearing a green, military style Parka coat and red baseball hat.
“We would like to take this opportunity to share our disappointment and to ask for support to our community members. Unfortunately we have not had a very positive experience with reporting similar incident to the police force in the past.
He added: “Polish citizens who live in Stevenage are a very strong part of the local community and contribute to a very diverse and multicultural social landscape in our town.
“As a community group we organise and engage the local Polish community in various projects and events which always focus on building intercultural understanding, promoting tolerance and respect. We believe as a community we should try as hard as possible to tackle racism, bigotry and hate crime and through our actions we should always show there is no place for them in modern society. As a Polish community we expect to be respected and we will always oppose hate.”
Neighbourhood police sergeant Ali Beazley said: “We take all incidents of hate crime very seriously and will always investigate where appropriate. People of all race and religion should be able to live in our town without fear of being abused. If you recognise the man or witnessed the incident please call the Herts police non-emergency number 101 quoting crime reference number E1/17/466. Alternatively please call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”