10:15, January 26 80 0 theguardian.com

2021-01-26 10:15:05
Parent condemns barrister over 'stroppy teenager of colour' tweet

The mother of a schoolgirl who was repeatedly sent home because of her afro hairstyle has condemned a barrister who said the case was about a “stroppy teenager of colour”.

Jon Holbrook tweeted about Ruby Williams, who claimed four years ago that Urswick Church of England school in Hackney, east London, had racially discriminated against her. Williams, now 19, was awarded £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement after her family took legal action. The family were supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In response to a video posted by the commission about the case, Holbrook said: “The Equality Act undermines school discipline by empowering the stroppy teenager of colour.”

Kate Williams, who appeared in the video, said her daughter was incredibly brave to challenge the institutional racism that affected black students across the country. “I think he [Holbrook] just saw my picture and decided to pick on her I suppose.”

She added: “He knows nothing of her suffering. It went on for three and a half years before they changed the policy.”

The tweet was widely condemned by legal professionals and led to Holbrook being criticised by his own chambers.

Cornerstone Barristers said it “repudiates the contents of the tweet and all that it insinuates. The contents of the tweet do not in any way reflect the views of Cornerstone Barristers.”

Holbrook had been asked to delete the tweet, it added, and an “urgent investigation into the matter” had been launched.

David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said: “What a pathetic response from a barrister. No one should be discriminated against because of their race, or because their hair is different. You shame the bar and undermine your profession.”

Maurice Mcleod, the chief executive of Race on the Agenda, said: “There’s nothing ‘stroppy’ about standing up for your rights. We should all be able to exist without editing or transforming ourselves to fit some racist perceived norm.”



Kate Williams described Holbrook’s tweet as “shocking, but not surprising” because “there’s people with those views lurking in every profession and that’s the scary thing”. She added: “This guy is attacking a vulnerable young person, knowing nothing about her circumstances, and that’s really dangerous.”

She said that although the commission was “amazing”, she believed her daughter had been let down by institutions that were meant to protect her. “Ruby suffered for three and a half years. Where was the education world? Where was the DfE [Department for Education]? Where was Ofsted? Where was the secretary for education? Where were these people? I was screaming out begging for help from 2016 and they all left her in that situation.”

Holbrook said: “My tweet drew attention to a serious political issue namely the way that children of colour have been able to undermine school uniform policies by requiring them to be adapted to accommodate cultural difference. This issue connects to a wider debate that society needs to have about the equality laws that have enabled these claims to succeed on the basis that the law backs cultural difference at the expense of assimilation.”

He added: “The attempt to cancel me, that is being led by the left on Twitter, shows how difficult it is to have a reasoned debate on issues connected with race. It is time for the country to also question the harmful impact that the Equality Act is having on free speech. There are many activists who want to silence those who criticise laws that encourage cultural difference. When people are silenced this is not good for democracy.”

Topics