A Muslim mum has spoken of how she has been left traumatised after her nikab veil was ripped from her face in an alleged race attack in a shopping centre.
The woman, who regards Sunderland as her “home city” after moving here almost 30 years ago from Bangladesh, says she and her family have taken great comfort in the support of people from Wearside in the aftermath of Sunday’s assault.
The incident happened at around 3.40pm on Sunday when the woman was assaulted and racially abused in the Bridges Shopping Centre.
She fled the scene but a number of witnesses contacted the police.
A 55-year-old man was arrested and charged and inquiries are continuing.
The mum-of-four - who was not injured but left shaken by the incident - was with her son while her husband was inside a shop when it is claimed a man pulled off her veil and is said to have told her: “You’re in Britain, live by British rules.”
Shop workers, who were left in tears, and witnesses rushed to her aid as the shock of the incident hit.
The woman, who has asked not to be named, was wearing a nikab and headscarf at the time and has been left with a pain in her shoulder, as the veil was tied to her scarf.
The woman says she began to wear the veil around two-years-ago as her faith in Islam strengthened and has pledged to continue to wear it, but says she has been left shaken, vulnerable and upset by the disturbance.
She said: “I was just shocked and when I saw my veil on the floor. I felt really scared. I haven’t slept a wink since, I’ve just been wandering around the house traumatised.
“We are waiting for Eid, that’s why we were shopping, but now I feel like I can’t enjoy it and we’re not ready.
“It should be a happy time for us but I want to thank everybody who helped and for their messages. I don’t feel hate for him. As a muslim, if anyone hates, you love them back, that is what we are taught, to be peaceful.
“Sunderland is my home city, where my life is, where my children were born and it will be where I die. I want it to be safe for everybody.”
The woman’s brother added: “It’s heartbreaking. This is the kind of thing we would see 20 or 30 years ago. We still get verbal abuse, but nothing like this.
Monir Ahmed, community co-ordinator for Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre, said: “Sunderland is a multi-cultural city and has been for a long time. For anyone to be verbally or physically abused is not acceptable.”
Police say Peter Scotter, 55, of Hendon Close, Hendon has been charged with racial/religious aggravated intentional harassment and racial/religious aggravated common assault and is due to appear at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court on July 19.
Sergeant Maria Ord, of Northumbria Police’s southern area command, said: “This kind of incident will not be tolerated in our region and we will act quickly to identify those we believe to be responsible.
“This is very much an isolated incident but extra patrols will be on patrol to reassure any concerned members of the public.”
Andy Bradley, centre director of The Bridges, said: “We were alerted to an incident in the Bridges which our security team dealt with swiftly and efficiently and the person in question was removed immediately.”
People in Sunderland have been quick to express their support.
Kam Chera wrote: “Being a British Asian adopted Mackem I applaud the number of witnesses who came out in support of this lady.”
“There is always a positive out of a negative.”
Kati Everett Cowley Bohill wrote: “Not in my city. Racism does work both ways and can only be challenged when reported.”
Nick Berry added: “As someone who works in Sunderland, I am increasingly concerned by this behaviour.
“Sunderland has many different races and cultures and as such the multicultural aspects of our region should be celebrated - this vile behaviour can’t continue.
Janice Leach said: “We will not tolerate this in Sunderland.”