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Damaging and disrespectful: Why I’m fuming at how Cromer has been portrayed after ‘lockdown’

PUBLISHED: 14:03 24 August 2017 | UPDATED: 07:52 25 August 2017

Cromer gets back on its feet after the problems. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Cromer gets back on its feet after the problems. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

I’ve never made any secret of how much I love Cromer.

Cromer gets back on its feet after the weekend's problems. Picture : ANTONY KELLYCromer gets back on its feet after the weekend's problems. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

I lived there for 38 years before a recent move to Norwich and still call it home. It is a wonderful town with a unique character - lived in by people who are generally broad-minded, welcoming, and with a wry sense of humour.

Right now, on behalf of Cromer, I am fuming.

I am fuming at the thugs who targeted the town last weekend, intimidating shop owners, staff and customers as they stole goods and refused to pay for their food and drink in restaurants and pubs.

I am fuming at the initial police response - both the inadequate number of officers who attended and the comments that dismissed it as “low-level disorder”. That has since been corrected, but it left a sour taste in many mouths.

I am also fuming at some of the news articles that have been written about Cromer as it was reluctantly cast in the spotlight.

National journalists headed to the coast, lured by the tasty story about the town being on lockdown in response to crimes linked to the arrival of Travellers on the Runton Road car park.

Some put together fair and balanced reports. But others did the predictable hatchet job - leaving Cromer wounded.

The worst example came from Guardian journalists Kevin Rawlinson and Patrick Barkham, who seemed to have drawn their conclusions before speaking to people.

Their article panders to prejudices about the rather amusing little people who live beyond the M25.

Because Cromer isn’t Kensington or Chelsea, the people are therefore hicks from the sticks, to be patted on the head and poked fun at - the sort of people to be laughed at at dinner parties and in wine bars.

How about this gem, said by a local, no doubt with a Cromer twinkle in the eye? What quaint folk we must be.

“To locals – as far as dialect was concerned at least – even Norwich, 30 miles south, could seem a world away.”

How true. As we ride our carts the 22 (not 30) miles to Norwich, we imagine fairytale castles, giants and streets paved with chocolate. It’s not a world away, it’s another dimension.

Now I’m not too keen on labelling people who read particular papers, but I think it’s fair to say Guardian readers are largely left-wing and liberal.

They probably have a tendency to be sympathetic to Travellers. But this article pushed sympathy too far.

It read: “The weekend’s trouble has been blamed by some on a group of Irish Travellers who are said to have moved to a site near the town at the end of last week.”

For “said to have moved to a site” read “did move to a site”.

And who are the “some” who blamed the group of Irish Travellers for the weekend’s trouble? Well, how about the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Nick Dean?

On Monday he said: “An influx of the travelling community in Cromer... led to an increase in low level disorder and thefts and the events that we know about.”

He said “a large proportion” of the incidents were related to the travelling community but it would be “wrong to say all the events were”.

Case closed - unless your agenda encourages you to turn the victims into the villains.

Let’s not pretend that Cromer is a town without its faults. Like every community, it has its “wrong uns”, and too many (one is too many) people with intolerant and racist views that easily bubble to the surface.

Twitter, Facebook and the comments section of our stories featured sporadic and shameful uses of words like “pikeys”. The authors - whether from Cromer or elsewhere - did the town no favours.

There is no excusing it, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll move on to the police.

By underplaying the trouble and failing to make arrests or bring charges, they probably thought they were taking the heat out of the situation, enabling the Travellers to move on and things to calm down.

But it’s counterproductive. For it breeds resentment - a feeling of “one rule for one, one rule for others”. If and when the Travellers return, it might be to a town bracing itself for unrest, rather than extending the hand of welcome.

That, I can assure you, is not the default setting for Cromer, which welcomes tens of thousands of people from all over the UK to the town every summer.

The response to people is not based on their ethnicity, their colour or their accent - it’s based on how they behave.

Business owners do not close their doors on a whim during the peak season, a time when they are trying to maximise their income to see them through the fallow winter months.

It wasn’t panic or prejudice - it was a considered response to a threat.

Ask the Indian restaurant owners who endured violence, theft and intimidation; or the pub manager who was almost pulled across the bar for asking people to leave; or the shopkeeper who lost a greater value of stock to shoplifting in one day than in all his years of being in business.

It all happened, and the Travellers were largely responsible for it. These are facts, not conclusions born of hate.

Sadly, conclusions born of prejudice have damaged Cromer and disrespected its people.

I for one won’t have it. So stop your superiority and snobbery, drop your disdain and make more effort to get to know the truth about a town that is a genuine gem.

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