A LEADING police officer joined members of the Roma Gypsy community as they paid tribute to fellow travellers who were killed during the Holocaust.

Inspector Chris Knox, from Darlington Police, was invited by Billy Welch, who is key figure in the UK Gypsy community, to take part in the remembrance service called “Dikh He Na Bister”– which is Roma for “Look and don’t forget” – at Auschwitz Birkenau, in Poland.

In addition to the six million Jews killed in camps like Auschwitz, the Nazis killed other minorities during the Second World War, including between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Roma Gypsies.

Together they laid a wreath on behalf of the force and paid his respects.

He is thought to be the first British police officer to be invited to attend the ceremony.

To honour those who lost their lives, the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day takes place every year on August 2, when the last Roma Gypsy victims of the Holocaust were killed in Auschwitz.

The Northern Echo:

Inspector Chris Knox with Sherrie Smith from Gate (Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment) and Billy Welch carrying the Roma flag

Mr Welch said: “This was a very emotional time for me and my people - we were extremely proud that Inspector Chris Knox attended the ceremony to remember what happened and not forget that this was not that long ago.

“This atrocity is still in living memory and the only way to prevent this happening again is to continue to remember and never forget. I would like to thank Insp Knox and Durham Constabulary for their support – it was extremely important to me and my people and we were very grateful of his attendance and support.

“The Roma Gypsies feel that this was a great step forward in our relationship with Durham Constabulary and the police in general.”

The Northern Echo:

Inspector Chris Knox with the wreath

During the visit, they heard from inspirational survivors of the Nazi German genocide, and from civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Insp Knox said “It was a real honour to be invited and stand shoulder to shoulder with Billy at the ceremony to pay our respects to all those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

“It is testament to some of the close working relationships we have between the Gypsy community and Durham Constabulary.

“It was a very moving experience to be part of the event and an honour to represent Durham Constabulary and pay my respect to those who suffered.”