BOSSES at Blackburn’s Ice Arena have apologised and launched an investigation after a ‘no travellers’ sign was placed in the reception.

A duty manager at the rink put the sign up following a series of incidents.

It stayed on view in the main reception for five days before it was taken down after staff were contacted by the Lancashire Telegraph.

The sign has infuriated ethnic minority groups who said it breached race relations law.

But Arena bosses said it went up without their permission and have apologised for any offence caused.

Hughie Smith, life president of The Gypsy Council, said the sign was ‘inflammatory, illegal and in danger of inciting racial hatred’.

He said: “This manager has definitely got it wrong. It is very rare to see this because people have learned it is discrimination.

"It is sad in this day and age.”

A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said refusing to serve someone because of their race, including their colour, nationality or ethnicity, was an offence under the Equality Act 2010.

He said: “Consumers have the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination by shops or services.

"Refusing to serve someone because of their race would usually be unlawful, but only a court can decide if the law has been broken.”

One skater said: "I am disgusted. It is like saying no whites or blacks. It is discrimination.

"Anybody can cause trouble, not just people from the travelling community. I won't be going there again."

The notice was put up after police were called to the venue in Lower Audley last Thursday night by staff after a group of youths refused to leave.

Four youths who were inside the ice rink opened the fire exit doors to let their friends in without paying.

Staff were alerted by the alarm going off and the youths were asked to leave.

But the group demanded a refund, which was denied, and a row broke out in the reception area.

Officers arrived and the nine youths left at around 8.44pm. No arrests were made during the incident.

A police spokesperson said: "We attended as there was a group being hard work. They left after police advice.”

Arena bosses said there had also been a number of incidents over Christmas and the New Year involving travellers.

In a statement from senior managers, they said: "Police were called on several occasions to quell public order offences by groups of youths.

"This led to a duty manager erecting signage at the entrance to the Arena to advise that members of the travelling community were not to be admitted due to these problems which had arisen.

"Senior Arena management were not aware such a sign had been erected and on discovering it immediately took steps to remove it and the management wishes to apologise for any offence caused.

"The Arena does not seek to discriminate against any persons as a category and the management does not condone any form of discrimination.

"The Arena management reiterate that it has no policy of discrimination for users of the Arena but it will seek to exclude known trouble-makers who violate the rules of using the Arena premises in the future."

Joe Dykes, head of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Achievement Service for Lancashire County Council, said if the sign had not been removed, legal action could have been taken.

He said: "There is case law behind this under the Race Relations Act. Many years ago, a pub put up a sign up saying no travellers which went to court.

"The groups protected under the law are Roma gypsies or travellers of Irish heritage.

"Travellers is such a global word but it would be unlawful to place a sign like that.

"People do put signs up in frustration after incidents happen but I would hope in this day and age some people would think carefully beforehand.

"It is unfortunate that it has happened. I hope the management taken appropriate action and it won't happen again."

A Blackburn Council spokesman said the issue was a police matter. Yesterday police said they had not received any formal complaints.