Lib Dem Suzanne Fletcher on Today programme talking about her fight against “red doors” policy

Suzanne FletcherAnother appalling example of the way we treat vulnerable people in our immigration and asylum system has been highlighted on the Today Programme today. From the BBC

The front doors of houses used by asylum seekers are to be repainted, after claims they were targeted because nearly all of the doors were red.

Asylum seekers in Middlesbrough told The Times eggs and stones had been thrown at their houses because the doors made them easy to identify.

The immigration minister said he was “deeply concerned” about the issue.

G4S said there was no policy to house asylum seekers behind red doors but its subcontractor would be repainting them.

‘Marked them out’

The Times visited 168 houses in Middlesbrough owned by Jomast, a sub contractor for the global security firm G4S, and found 155 had red doors.

That Times report (£) has some awful accounts of what has happened to the people living in those houses:

Asylum claimants at more than a dozen Middlesbrough addresses said that Jomast’s red doors were an easy target for racists. They described incidents including the smearing of dog excrement against doors, and eggs and stones being thrown at windows. A National Front symbol was scratched into the front door of one house. At another, women cowered inside as thugs hurled racist jibes.
“They put us behind red doors. When people see them, everyone knows it means asylum seekers. It’s like saying we’re not the same as you,” said one man whose house was targeted.

The Chair of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary Suzanne Fletcher comes from the area and has spent years campaigning against this. She was on the Today programme talking about all the things she had done over the years to highlight this:

She said:

Over 4 years ago when i was working with asylum seekers, they were so worried that this marked them out as asylum seekers and they were worried about attacks, that sort of thing. The Police have done everything that they can do but because asylum seekers are so vulnerable and are frightened of jeopardising their case, things haven’t always been reported.

She described how she and others met with G4S and they had refused to change the colour of the doors. She then took it to the Home Affairs Select Committee but it didn’t make any difference. She has also sent the evidence to the National Audit Office and it was then discussed by the Public Accounts Committee in 2014.

You can listen to Suzanne here at around 1 hour 25 minutes in.

Now it appears that the company have backed down and the doors will be repainted, but this gives a bit of an insight into what enormous effort it takes to change something that is so blatantly discriminatory. Thank heavens Suzanne pursued it with such determination, but this should have been sorted years ago. It’s all very well for Immigration Minister James Brokenshire to say how concerned he is. It’s a pity nobody complained to public organisations and had the matter raised in Parliament, then, isn’t it? Oh, wait…

How much misery could these people have been spared if this had been dealt with sooner?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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26 Comments

  • why are the doors red? is it because the company want to distinguish asylum seekers or is it because they buy paint in bulk. Around a certain Scottish naval base the amount of sheds, bicycles, doors, windows painted Battleship Grey must have surely been a coincidence with the lack gate security.

    Companies tend to stick to corporate colours, in the earlier half of the last century the local council had a liking for green paint and painted everything from council house doors and windows to everything in schools green.

    Whether a simple corporate ignorance is at fault or whether it is a deliberate policy needs to be established. Even if the houses are repainted is it going to solve the problem. The local thugs can see people coming and going.

  • “an insight into what enormous effort it takes to change something that is so blatantly discriminatory”

    I’m not clear on this one, was it an active choice to paint them red? Or was it the colour that was cheap when the houses were all worked on so they happened to be painted red? When I once lived in a house with a red front door and there was no meaning attached.

    Is this actually some nefarious plot, or is it a circumstance that happened to create a situation that had a slow bureaucratic response? The circumstances are unpleasant but the tone of this reporting sound like more malice is being applied than exists.

  • I am familiar with a number of properties in the University area of Belfast having their doors painted red (other owners paint them black, etc..). What they all have in common is that the same landlord owns them. All the internal walls are typically painted magnolia or cream.. This is nothing to do with anything other than economics…bulk paint purchase/ease of maintenance.
    I might guess that if the Home Office or whoever has arranged contracts for accommodation with similar Middlesbrough landlords, that this issue might inadvertently and unfortunately arise….???

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Jan '16 - 1:53pm

    All you commenters who are saying “but it was only paint” are missing the point that Suzanne and others had presented evidence that those with the red doors were being targeted for attack and abuse. G4S had known this for years and done nothing about it.

  • Bill le Breton 20th Jan '16 - 2:25pm

    What a superb campaign Suzanne! A real example to us all – at least four years of relentless and painstaking effort ! You deserve this success.

  • Nigel Quinton 20th Jan '16 - 2:27pm

    I must have been half asleep earlier when listening to this live and didn’t pick up that it was Suzanne. Just replayed it on iPlayer and was astonished that the interviewer lamely finished with a statement from G4S that was blatantly untrue – ” we had had no complaints from assylum seekers”. Suzanne was given no opportunity to challenge this statement and the way the interview was presented was almost dismissive of the efforts Suzanne had gone through to bring this to everyone’s attention; I came away thinking this was a recent issue that was now being dealt with properly. Both G4S and Brokenshire ought to have been pilloried – what sort of journalism do the BBC provide now?

  • Caron is correct , yes all above probably are too , yet though that might be the case , and the wretched doors might not be painted red for any odd motive , this is a story that is a gift for the best of Liberalism and folks seem to be missing that !!! It shows what any of us surely know and feel , it matters not one bit whether a service is publicly owned or privately owned , if it is a service at all ,it is for people ,and for the individual person , and needs to respond as such ! What a terrific Liberal champion Suzanne must be , battling against the slow coach , inflexible ,stick and stuck in the mud , G4S and the like ! One size fits all ,policy , whether to save money or not , is no excuse for a private company or a directly owned government provider. Freedom of choice , flexibility of delivery , the only Liberalism worth anything ! And what a sorry indictment of local racists bring back “tough Liberalism , ” too !!!

  • adrian sanders 20th Jan '16 - 3:30pm

    Well done Suzanne – community campaigning gets results, and media coverage. Lessons for all if willing to learn.

  • Well done, Suzanne. Standing up for proper Liberalism in an effective way.

    What didn’t get publicity was the role of G4S and a company called Jomast owned by one Stuart Monk (estimated wealth £175m, 563rd in the Sunday Times Rich List). Jomast owns the ‘Red Door’ houses property and has the contract with G4S. It’s well worth a Google search for “Jomast Stockton hostel and the mother-and-baby-market” to see what we’re dealing with.

    As for G4S, they have a very questionable human rights record at home and abroad illustrating all that is bad in privatising and outsourcing without accountability. Here’s a small sample from the UK (plenty more abroad) :

    Manslaughter charges October 2010, Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on a British Airways plane shortly before take-off. Three guards employed by G4S were charged with manslaughter, but found not guilty after a six week trial in December 2014.

    Human rights violations An elderly man was handcuffed to a G4S prison officer for eight days in March 2012 despite having just suffered a heart attack. Peter McCormack, 79, was only released when he had a heart operation. Judge Graham Wood ordered G4S to pay compensation for breaching McCormack’s human rights.

    In 2013, G4S was forced to pay out £109 million after an audit found it overcharged the British government for electronic prisoner tags. It was cleared by the Cabinet Office in April 2014, which said the firm had taken “positive steps” to change its practices.

    The London Olympics security scandal in 2012 . G4S was bailed out by the police,the military (and the taxpayer).

    We hear much about an ethical foreign policy. How about an ethical Home policy ?

    Over a century ago the Liberal Party began to tackle poverty after detailed research by such as Seebohm Rowntree in York. As Suzanne, shows there’s plenty of stuff to investigate today. To quote the bard, “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark”.

  • A bizarre story. No evidence is offered that there was any bad intent, nor is any evidence offered that the despicable racist attacks were facilitated in any way by the doors, so I’m not sure it’s accurate or fair to describe the painting of these doors as appalling treatment.

    While Lib Dems are (rightly) praising Suzanne Fletcher for her persistence, the obvious question that comes to my mind is: why did no Lib Dem minister step in and do something? For most of the four years Fletcher has been trying to get something done, Lib Dems were in government. Former Lib Dem MP Ian Swales appears to have mentioned it once in a committee meeting, but that’s about it.

    I hope the repainting of the doors will help protect the asylum seekers from further attacks, but I can’t help thinking that a better way of helping them blend in to society would be to stop this absurd practise of concentrating the vast majority of them in a handful of poverty-ridden towns and cities in the northern half of England (and Glasgow), and distributing them more widely across the country, including some of the more salubrious parts.

  • Ryan McAlister 20th Jan '16 - 8:58pm

    Why is the instinctive reaction to look to blame G4S or the other contractor instead of the mindless thugs who do the damage? Nothing in the above piece or the included quotes mentions at at all.

    The ONLY people to blame for this are them. The sooner we stop making excuses for antisocial behaviour for people the better.

  • Well done, Suzanne! I woke up this morning to the Today programme thinking “that speaker sounds very much like Suzanne”, but was not awake enough to realise it really was you.

  • suzanne fletcher 20th Jan '16 - 9:53pm

    thank you Caron, for writing such a good and concise story from what you picked up.
    just to answer some of the points above.
    there have been many many interviews today. I was picked up at 6.30 this morning and done interviews non stop all day will after 5.00 pm, then talked to Radio Canada a bit later. some had a lot more depth in than others and copied more of the issue and other issues too.
    I don’t think there was anything wrong in them being painted the particular shade of red in the first place, but is wrong is Jomast’s determination not to alter this at all when problems arose, and first suggestions and then complaints were made. THey even repainted a door that some asylum seekers had saved up to buy white painted had done them selves.
    It has also been very wrong of G4S to say they did not know of the situation. luckily I did find the evidence to take out with me today of first of all a meeting they were at with asylum seekers when they refused, and then a transcript of the Public Accounts Committee.
    There is no doubt about the problems caused by the red doors, adn even if no targetting, people were afraid and felt vulnerable. Picking people out by marking their doors can be the beginning of worse. don’t forget these are people who have fled terror and persecution.
    whilst we were in government I would have loved it if we had had a Lib Dem Minister with power to do things, but our post in the Home Office did not cover such.
    Ian Swales did much more than say one thing. He guided me through the process of National Audit Office to Public Accoutns Committee (I wouldn’t have worked it out for myself), read through the information I gave him, mainly about some shocking things about the mother and baby hostel in Stockton but other issues nothing to do with Ian’s constituency. He then cross examined G4S at the Committee.
    Whateve cynics might think, the asylum seekers I’ve come across today are relieved and delighted, and it is they that matter.
    the worst and best is yet to come. Newsnight interview was tough and it got worse as it got colder and darker, I don’t know how it will come over tonight. But I mentioned our community cjhoir where all are very welcome, and Newsnight turned up there too!

  • All you commenters who are saying “but it was only paint” are missing the point that Suzanne and others had presented evidence that those with the red doors were being targeted for attack and abuse.

    So if houses with red doors were being targetted for attack and abuse, there should be records of other houses in these areas with red doors that are not occupied by asylum seekers…

    I also note that whilst people are being very precise about the number of houses with red doors, they are (deliberately?) imprecise about the number of properties actually being singled out. From reading between the lines it would seem it is 2~6 out of 155… Which, if the BBC news footage, is indicative of the typical neighbourhood these properties are in, it is hardly surprising that these properties are being singled out. I expect changing the colour of the door will have no impact whatsoever on the level of attacks being made on those properties and their occupants that have suffered repeated attacks in the past.

  • suzanne fletcher 21st Jan '16 - 12:05am

    no info on number of houses targeted as most are not reported. 2 reasons.
    1. people are very anxious not to be seen as causing trouble as doing such as they are desperately wanting to get refugee status and don’t want to do anything seen as blotting copy books.
    2. many do not see police the way we do, as people “on our side” if we behave. Many have come from countries where the police are either the enemy or on the side of the establishment and not for people like them.
    it will take a bit of time for the repainting to have impact as a newly painted door will say something! but the perpetrators are likely to be in younger age brackets and grow out of it and forget where such houses are.

  • Well done, Suzanne. You’re canny and deserve a well earned rest.

    Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture if the £ 175 million Mr Monk painted every door in the street red – or being democratic – asked the whole neighbourhood what colour each household would like ? He could probably put it down as a tax deductible charity donation.

    As for @ Ryan – I suggest he does a bit of evidence based research about a system whereby a multi millionaire can swell his coffers with public money. He could start with the Jomast Women and Babies hostel in Stockton and see if any of his female relatives would be happy there.

  • Ryan , actually I very strongly mention the racist attackers, and call for the return of so called tough liberalism ! You are correct on the thugs being the only ones to blame , yet that is not what the actual story is really or mainly about, the way I look at it . Of course the thuggery is of massive concern , and by the way I am a party member and on the issue of violent crime and criminals, but only that issue , I am to the right of Attila the Hun, or Gengis Khan, however I do not feel anyone herin , or the article , is unaware exactly who the culprits are , but are also aware , hopefully ,of who Suzanne was up against ! It would be true to say the wider issue is a matter for society as a whole and , let us hope the police also got to grips with this aspect too .

  • P. S. Very good info from David Raw shows further just what I mean .

  • The attackers are called racist, perhaps they are very angry they are unable to afford housing? Why are the homeless not given housing? There will be more and more unrest unless the issue of affordable homes is addressed.

  • Landlord owns houses: paints all doors red. G4S sublets houses, places asylum-seekers in them. Local thugs spot that asylum-seekers concentrated in these houses; commit anti-social acts.

    How is this G4S’s fault? And, unless the asylum-seekers are redistributed among different, more diversely-spread properties (which they may not welcome) and/or become invisible, how will a Balamory-style repaint help?

    Sometimes we can be very juvenile.

  • Stuart 20th Jan ’16 – 8:21pm……….I hope the repainting of the doors will help protect the asylum seekers from further attacks, but I can’t help thinking that a better way of helping them blend in to society would be to stop this absurd practise of concentrating the vast majority of them in a handful of poverty-ridden towns and cities in the northern half of England (and Glasgow), and distributing them more widely across the country, including some of the more salubrious parts………..

    A wistful, if impractical, picture…I can well imagine Cotswold cottages, etc. being on G4S’s list of properties suitable for asylum seekers; after all, profit is not important….

    David 21st Jan ’16 – 12:17pm….Landlord owns houses: paints all doors red. G4S sublets houses, places asylum-seekers in them…….How is this G4S’s fault?

    I think the clue might be in the fact that, when the occupants painted the door white, it was re-painted red….Now I may be cynical, but I’d suggest getting a landlord to do such painting, even when it’s needed, might be difficult. For them to do such work, when it’s not needed, smacks of another reason.

  • It really doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or not because the red doors became a stigma identifying asylum seekers homes so G4S should have responded sympathetically. As expats says repainting a white door red is the clue and the distance from that action to yellow badges for Jews isn’t very great in my opinion.
    So thank you Suzanne for acting with humanity, determination and courage and walking our Lib Dem talk. We should all be very proud of you.

  • Simon Banks 21st Jan '16 - 4:10pm

    Yes, it’s very likely that this was simply the company doing the simple thing. That is still appalling because anyone with an ounce of wit could have understood what was going to happen. So either the ounce of wit was lacking or someone did understand and didn’t care.

    As for the local racists “seeing people coming and going”, you can’t necessarily tell an asylum-seeker by appearance alone. After all, not all asylum-seekers are obviously not white and not all Black people are asylum-seekers, are they?

  • Richard Underhill 27th May '16 - 10:56am

    “suzanne fletcher 21st Jan ’16 – 12:05am no info on number of houses targeted as most are not reported. 2 reasons. 1. people are very anxious not to be seen as causing trouble as doing such as they are desperately wanting to get refugee status and don’t want to do anything seen as blotting copy books. 2. many do not see police the way we do, as people “on our side” if we behave. Many have come from countries where the police are either the enemy or on the side of the establishment and not for people like them. it will take a bit of time for the repainting to have impact as a newly painted door will say something! but the perpetrators are likely to be in younger age brackets and grow out of it and forget where such houses are.”
    There is no information here about what stage people are in the process. Are they waiting for the Home Office to make a decision? Have they been refused with a right of appeal? Obviously if they have been granted at first decision, such as under a Tribunal policy affecting an entire country of origin, they can live freely in the UK and should treated under the policies in the supplement to the 1951 Convention.
    Anonymity is a key issue. On the basis that the country of origin may wish to harm them, as some do, all asylum seekers should be treated confidentially, although some choose to ignore or refute that.
    Skin colour can be relevant to why they are refugees, consider ethnic minorities in Burma for instance. The events of 1989 mean that nationals of ex-communist countries are unlikely to qualify for asylum, with the possible exception of countries such as Belarus. Campaigners could ask a parliamentarian to ask a written question about the policy.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jul '16 - 5:03pm

    James Brokenshire MP has been promoted to the Cabinet by Theresa May and appointed as Northern Ireland Secretary.
    The BBC is reporting that he said at an official engagement at Belfast City Hall that it is difficult to see how Northern Ireland and Scotland can remain in the EU.
    He also ruled out a poll on the border.

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