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Firefighter on charity run left shocked by racial slur in Thurnby Lodge, Leicester


A black firefighter collecting cash for charity was left shocked and upset when a white man told his young daughter not to give money to "the darkie".

Velma Simms-Stewart, who says she is Leicestershire's only female black firefighter, was in Thurnby Lodge collecting on the fire service's annual Rudolph Run when the incident happened.

She and other firefighters had given up their free time to go out with collection buckets to raise money for local charities.

"There were about 15 of us collecting in Thurnby Lodge and it was a very happy atmosphere," said Velma, who is based at the city's Eastern fire station, in Hastings Road.

"We were there with the sleigh, and lots of kids were following us.

"A little girl was there with her dad. She was probably about seven, and she smiled at me and she came up to give me some money. Then her dad said, 'Don't give it to the darkie, give it to that man', pointing at one of the other firefighters.

"I couldn't believe it. I didn't say anything back to him because I was in uniform, but if I hadn't been I would have told him what I thought.

"I was very upset by it, but I have experienced this before. We may live in a multi-cultural society, but we've not got rid of racism."

She said that the girl's father was "just an ordinary-looking dad, aged about 40".

Velma said that she was angry about the incident.

"I didn't want to tell my 13-year-old son about it," she said. "He knows now, and it's had a big impact on him too.

"But this sort of thing is everywhere – my mum has gone through a lot of the same in London."

The 49-year-old, who lives in Syston with her Irish husband, Joe, has been with Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service for 10 years.

The incident happened on December 11, but Velma has only just told her colleagues about it.

"I haven't reported it to the police or the management here because I don't think it would achieve anything," said Velma, who in 2010 won an award for her community work with children.

Joe, 50, said: "I'm just so disgusted by it because Velma does such a lot of good work in the community and all the firefighters on the Rudolph Run are volunteering and giving their own time.

"All I ask is for people to respect her and especially when she's in uniform and doing her duty."

The Mercury contacted the Fire Brigades' Union for a comment, but nobody was available.

Councillor Barbara Potter, a regular chairman of the Thurncourt area committee, said she was shocked.

"It's terrible to hear that something like this could have come from an adult in front of his daughter," she said.

"It's a great shame and I find it shocking. Hopefully, the education system in the city can stamp out this sort of attitude.

"We have a lot of mixed-race families in this part of Leicester now and it's more important to love and get on with our neighbours and realise that the colour of their skin isn't an issue."

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