A Community in Uproar over Channel 4’s The Truth about Traveller Crime by Luke Smith

29 April 2020
Luke Wenman

I was horrified to see the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary … writes Romany Gypsy activist Luke Smith.

We were rightly concerned when we found racist tweets from the producer using a simple Twitter search and several people sending in supporting evidence. It’s appalling that Channel 4 didn’t do these basic checks on a producer of a documentary centred on such a sensitive issue.

The Truth about Traveller Crime didn’t exactly fit the Channel 4 public service remit: “appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society”.  It misrepresented the Gypsy and Irish Traveller communities to suit the disturbing need of the director to prove our experience of racism is justified and to hit large viewing figures/publicity using the journalism of ‘shock and awe’ to stoke the flames racialised hatred.

Secondly the misuse and misrepresentation of data used in the show, is concerning. Statistics is a tool that shouldn’t be used lightly, especially by those who clearly don’t understand the discipline. When you go into using statistics with prejudice the outcome will always show that unobjective view. It results in data manipulation and cherry picking of data to suit your own nefarious ends which we were briefly alluded to by the criminologist featured who has now spoken out against the shows portrayal.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve already started having public calls for mass sterilisation and for the burning alive/torture of Gypsies and Travellers. The statistics from the show will be used to justify this kind of hatred. This can be explained by the undisputable existence of racism within planning law and the planning system. GRT related planning and accommodation has approval that is far below that of anything else with far higher incidence of planning disputes. Traveller’s sites are often pushed to the margins of society and hidden from view not in near proximity to the settled ordinary population mostly on what those people would consider wasteland or beside motorways. It would be a more fitting comparison to compare it with other poor deprived and overcrowded areas because these are the realities on some Traveller’s sites.

The key finding here would be what any criminologist worth their salt would tell you. Socioeconomic factors are what contribute to crime above all else not ethnicity. To say otherwise is to feed into a narrative of ‘acceptable’ eugenics and is the logic behind the recent disgusting abuse my community have suffered  as a direct result of this programme and the wider attitudes it reinforces in politicians/policy that harm the most vulnerable from our community. Those who are essentially forced into homelessness by a lack of local government to meet the need for transit sites and even permanent sites.

It was also notable Channel4 didn’t use any of the arguably most important statistics, the ones that present GRT people as the victims of harrowing racism and violence including that from the state as well as suffering from huge inequalities in public service provision and a lower expenditure rate per capita than the average population. It never mentioned the massively increased likelihood of forced adoptions based on racism.

The equivalent of this show is using the people from Jeremy Kyle or more fittingly Crime Watch in the show to represent the settled non-GRT populations and linking it to their ethnicity. It’s not truly reflective of the diversity and contribution we make to society. Including huge charitable donations and drives for local hospitals and foodbanks as well as activity in the provision for the homeless. The truth is we know how it feels to be marginalised and treated badly by society which is why we look out for others despite what the show would have you believe.

We also had to watch an ex-Army conservative MP Andrew Selous responsible for discriminatory forced assimilation bills comparing us to the Taliban. He didn’t feel the need to mention the Irish Traveller that served in Afghanistan alongside him that was bullied to death within the British Army. Is there any wonder GRT people suffer harrowing racism with shows like this? They’ve learnt none of the lessons from My Big Fat Gypsy wedding an also sensationalised appalling representation of our communities. The people featured in it making some disturbing allegations concerning the editing and journalistic practices used.

By Luke Smith BEng, University of Nottingham