Cambridgeshire

Cambridge Folk Festival disability insult row

Fran Williamson and Dr Chris Whitaker Image copyright Chris Whitaker
Image caption Fran Williamson and Chris Whitaker said a festival staff member referred to them as "window lickers"

An ex-Paralympian and her husband said they were called "window lickers" by a member of staff at "Europe's most prestigious folk festival".

Swimmer Fran Williamson and former GB rowing cox Dr Chris Whitaker said they heard the remark as they left the Cambridge Folk Festival.

The pair said they were deeply hurt by the comment, which marred an otherwise "really disability-friendly" event.

A festival spokesman said they found "no evidence" after investigating.

Dr Whitaker said he and his wife, a six-times Paralympic medallist who has cerebral palsy, were leaving the festival on Friday when they heard the offensive term.

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Image copyright Twitter

"As we were walking away there was a reference made to us being 'window lickers'.

"Luckily at the time I didn't realise what was going on but Fran most certainly did and was shaking with rage," he wrote.

"She finally explained to me and I was livid."

Image copyright Phil Cole/Getty
Image caption Fran Williamson won silver in the women's 50m freestyle and backstroke events in Athens in 2004 and silver in the Backstroke in Beijing in 2008

In an open letter on his own blog, Dr Whitaker, who works for disability charity Papworth Trust, wrote to the person he said insulted them: "I don't even know your name but I really wanted to write to you and tell you how I felt after our conversation last night.

"Your use of the words 'window licker' to describe my wife and I was deeply, deeply hurtful."

He added: "Remarks like yours... have a lingering, corrosive effect on my confidence."

Image copyright Twitter

'Misguided and moronic'

A number of people have commented, including Britain's most-decorated Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who described it as "appalling".

Folk festival organisers, Cambridge Live, responded to Dr Whittaker's comment on Twitter, saying they were "equally shocked" and were investigating.

In a statement released later, a spokesman said a number of staff who would have heard the alleged comment were interviewed on site.

Image copyright Twitter

The investigation found "no evidence" to suggest the term was used, he said, and "pointed to a comment about something else being possibly misheard or misconstrued."

Dr Whitaker, who also has cerebral palsy, confirmed he had spoken with the organisers, but insisted they had correctly heard the "misguided and moronic" comment.

However, he said it was "an isolated incident" in the couple's experience, and Ms Williamson later tweeted to say the couple "still loved the festival".

"[The organisers] were very apologetic," Dr Whitaker said.

"I have also offered to engage with the festival longer-term on disability-related issues, which is a positive outcome."

The festival, which bills itself as "Europe's most prestigious" folk event, was held over the weekend and headlined by Christy Moore, Gogol Bordello, and Imelda May.

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