An internal investigation by the BBC concluded that Top Gear's use of the word “pikey” was not racially offensive.
The ruling by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, which is due to be published on Tuesday, was condemned by Gypsy and Traveller organisations who accused the corporation of “legitimising the use of a racist word”.
We are horrified by the BBC’s green lighting of the use of the word ‘pikey’ by the Top Gear presenters.
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.
- Traveller Movement spokesman
The complaint lodged by the Traveller Movement charity relates to a Top Gear episode aired in February last year which featured a race of popular 1980s hatchbacks.
During the programme, presenter Richard Hammond’s choice of a Vauxhall Nova is ridiculed, before Jeremy Clarkson is seen erecting a placard at the start line bearing the words “Pikey’s Peak”.
In its ruling, seen by the i paper, the BBC committee acknowledges the fact that the word “pikey” related to Travellers.
While it “accepted that the word ‘pikey’ did have the potential to be deeply offensive to the Gypsy and Traveller communities”, it said there had been “no intended racist reference” by the Top Gear team.
“The Committee believed that the word ‘pikey’ had evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean ‘chavvy’ or ‘cheap’,” the committee stated.
Following the publication of this report in today's Independent, a BBC Trust spokesperon 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.
Origins of the word
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, “pikey” derives from “pike” – an old word for a road on which a toll is collected – and is therefore associated with a travelling lifestyle.
Its first use in print was in The Times in 1838, in an article referring to harvesters in the Isle of Sheppey.
In 2007, Lee Coleman, 28, became the first person in the UK to be convicted of racially aggravated harassment for telling a nightclub manager: “I’m not paying you, pikey.”