SETTLE Town Council is looking to strengthen the terms of hire for its market square after morris dancers attending a folk gathering earlier this month sparked anger from a visitor.

A row erupted after the visitor complained a troupe of morris dancers had blacked their faces causing her discomfort and embarrassment.

Settle mayor Cllr Dan Balsamini said he had been caught off guard when a national newspaper contacted him at work and he gave a response stating: “Personally, I would not want to see anything like that in Settle again.”

Cllr Balsamini said he had to report to the police station after receiving physical threats and ‘horrendous amounts of abuse’ towards him by people claiming the blacked faces were ‘traditional’ and not racist.

At a special meeting of the town council on Monday, he said: “I was caught off guard and should not have said anything. What I want to say is I fully support Settle Folk Gathering and fully support morris dancing, but we have to take this complaint seriously and cannot be seen to be doing anything that could undermine the integrity of this council.”

He said while the onus was on the organisations booking the use of the market place, the council was still responsible to some degree for what took place and amending the terms of hire could avoid a repeat.

Cllr Balsamini said it was the ‘ambiguity’ of the reasons behind the blacked faces which was the issue. “We don’t want to do anything that will bring us into disrepute,” he said.

Councillors said caution should be taken how the wording of the new agreement was written so it did not encourage more complaints.

“We have to be careful,” said Cllr Joe Lord. “You could end up having someone claiming he is not Christian and is offended by the Christmas lights, for example.”

Attending the meeting, John Manning of Settle Folk Gathering Committee said: “Settle Fold Gathering is a free folk festival which has taken place in town for four days during September for the last six years.

“The committee was very sorry to learn that one individual at this year’s festival felt upset and uncomfortable. This was not the intention of either the morris side in question, or the committee.” He said the committee was to meet next month and consider the matter.

He added that out of the 10 morris dancing groups, only one ‘blacked up’ and they have done so for the last six years in Settle without a complaint.