Jeremy Clarkson ruling: Travellers group objects as BBC Trust says Top Gear presenter's use of 'pikey' was not racist

'There was no intended racist reference': BBC rules in favour of Clarkson to Travellers' fury

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The Independent Online

The BBC is facing a fresh dispute over the behaviour of its Top Gear presenters after an internal investigation concluded that the programme’s use of the word “pikey” was not racially offensive. The ruling by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, due to be published tomorrow, was condemned by Gypsy and Traveller organisations, which accused the Corporation of “legitimising the use of a racist word”.

The dispute comes a week after the BBC suspended Jeremy Clarkson for allegedly punching one of the show’s producers during a row over food. An inquiry has been launched into the incident, during which it is claimed the Top Gear presenter called Oisin Tymon a “lazy Irish c***”.

The complaint, which was lodged by the Traveller Movement charity, relates to a Top Gear episode which aired in February last year and featured a race of popular 1980s hatchbacks. During the programme, presenter Richard Hammond’s choice of a Vauxhall Nova is ridiculed, before Clarkson is seen erecting a placard at the start line bearing the words “Pikey’s Peak”.

In its ruling, seen by The Independent, the BBC committee acknowledges the fact that the word “pikey” derives from “turnpike” and is therefore related to Travellers.

However, it said there had been “no intended racist reference” by the Top Gear team. “The committee believed the word ‘pikey’ had evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean ‘chavvy’ or ‘cheap’ and … viewers would not necessarily associate it with the Gypsy and Traveller communities,” the committee stated.

Refusing to uphold the complaint, it also noted that the use of the word “pikey” on Top Gear was the continuation of a “running gag” between Clarkson and fellow presenter James May about Hammond’s perceived cheap style. The placard was also a pun on the famous US racecourse Pike’s Peak, it added. Reacting to the ruling, a spokesman for the Traveller Movement said the BBC Trust had made an “absurd” decision, adding that the charity would be taking its complaint to the media regulator Ofcom.

“We are horrified by the BBC’s green-lighting of the use of the word ‘pikey’ by the Top Gear presenters. The claim that it has evolved a new meaning and that most people do not realise it has any reference at all with Gypsies and Travellers is absolute rubbish,” he said.

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “pikey” is an offensive term which derives from “pike” – an old word for a road on which a toll is collected

“BBC editorial standards of offence and harm have been trashed to defend the BBC’s so-called ‘flagship’ programme and over 100,000 Gypsy and Traveller children are now open to even more abuse in the playground – abuse that has the official sanction of the BBC Trust.”

A spokeswoman for the BBC Trust said: "The Trust is not sanctioning the abuse of anyone. The Editorial Standards Committee’s role is to hear individual complaints and judge them against the BBC’s editorial guidelines and reach a conclusion.

"The committee recognised the potential of the word in question to be deeply offensive but did not agree that in this context it was used as a term of racist or ethnic abuse.  The Committee advised considerable caution if it is employed in the future."

Top Gear has caused controversy by using the word “pikey” in the past, a fact that the BBC committee also acknowledged. In 2008, Clarkson called Hammond “such a pikey” for having a personalised car number plate, and in 2009 he described a certain model of car as “perfect … for anyone whose business is selling pegs and heather”.

In 2012, the BBC’s Top Gear magazine apologised for causing offence to Travellers after Hammond wrote in an article about his Land Rover: “I have fitted chrome accents on the dash and commissioned back seats bearing my daughters’ names. Yes, I am a pikey, and it is important that my Land Rover reflects that.

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Clarkson told reporters he was 'just off to the job centre' when asked about the 'fracas' with a BBC producer (PA)

Gypsies and Travellers are recognised under the Equality Act as an ethnic minority group, and the Traveller Movement said its members deserved to be treated with “common decency”.

The charity’s spokesman added: “The BBC is meant to set the bar on standards. By legitimising the use of a racist word on Top Gear, a pre-watershed entertainment programme, they could not have set it any lower.”

Although it cleared Top Gear of wrongdoing, the BBC committee said it “accepted that the word ‘pikey’ did have the potential to be deeply offensive to the Gypsy and Traveller communities”.

As a result of the complaint, it has advised programme-makers to use the word only with “extreme care and sensitivity”.

The BBC declined to comment ahead of the ruling being published.

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