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Clarkson cleared over 'pikey' sign

Clarkson cleared over 'pikey' sign

The BBC Trust has rejected complaints about Jeremy Clarkson using the word "pikey" on Top Gear.

The presenter, whose future is in doubt following a "fracas" with a producer on the show, put up a placard with the words Pikey's Peak on the BBC2 series in February last year.

Viewers complained that the sign was "grossly offensive and racist" to the "gypsy traveller community", whose children are subjected to the word as a term of abuse in schools.

But the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) concluded that the word had been used to mean "cheap", rather than as a term of racist or ethnic abuse.

In the episode, which compared hatchback cars from the 1980s with their contemporary equivalent, Clarkson and James May joked about co-presenter Richard Hammond's lack of style when he selected a Vauxhall Nova.

The stars then completed a circuit on a race course and Clarkson was seen putting up a handmade sign on a wooden hut, with the words Pikey's Peak.

Programme makers said that the use of the sign was also a pun on the name of the US racecourse Pikes Peak.

The ESC said that that the word "had evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean 'chavvy' or 'cheap' and, depending on the context, viewers would not necessarily associate it with the gypsy and traveller communities ".

But complainants said that it had been "disingenuous of the BBC to argue that there is no intended racist reference when using the word" because in its previous uses of the term, Top Gear "had made clear that 'pikey' refers to gypsies and travellers".

The ESC added: "On this occasion, the use of the word 'pikey' as a play on words would not have been seen as a careless or purposeless stereotype about travellers and gypsies, but in keeping with the style of humour exhibited by the presenters towards Richard Hammond's perceived 'cheap' style."

But it did admit that the word "did have the potential to be deeply offensive to the gypsy and t raveller communities" and that it "can be used in an abusive context".

"Programme makers should bear in mind the potential for offence this word may have in some circumstances and employ extreme care and sensitivity when using it", it added.

The ESC acts as the final arbiter of appeals if complainants are unhappy with the way their initial complaints have been dealt with by BBC management.

The BBC has suspended Clarkson and postponed the remaining episodes of Top Gear as it investigates allegations that he punched producer Oisin Tymon after filming the show, during a row over a hot meal at a hotel.

A spokesman for the Traveller Movement condemned the decision.

"We are horrified by the BBC's green lighting of the use of the word 'pikey' by the Top Gear presenters," he said.

"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.

"It is an absurd decision that flies in the face of the evidence we presented during the course of the 13-month-long complaint process."

He added: Top Gear have used the word in direct reference to gypsies and travellers in the past and to say that this time it means something else is absolutely breathtaking in its mendacity.

"We will now be taking the complaint to Ofcom and asking them to reverse this decision. 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."

The BBC Trust said in a statement: "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."

Meanwhile, Clarkson has raised more eyebrows with his column in Top Gear magazine.

Written before the latest incident involving a producer, he discusses immigrant taxi drivers in London.

"In London, there are two types of driver. You have a chap who's just arrived from a country you've never heard of, whose car smells faintly of lavender oil and sick, who doesn't know where he's going and can't get there anyway because he never puts more than £2 worth of fuel in the tank of his car," he writes.

"Then you have someone in a suit in a smart black Mercedes S-Class who does know where he's going and is very polite but he charges around £7,500 a mile."

On driving on the M1, he adds: "Then you're in the North, which means that you are jockeying for position in the outside lane with half a million overseas-registered Dacias which are being driven by people who've never experienced tarmac before and think that the speed limit is the top speed of their car. Which is about 42."