The Travellers’ Times condemns hostile new anti-Traveller laws

21 January 2021
The Travellers’ Times condemns hostile new anti-Traveller laws

It is shocking and almost unbelievable that the Government has chosen the middle of a global pandemic and resulting economic crisis to announce that they attend to give Gypsy and Traveller communities in England yet another kick in the teeth.

The Government’s new police and crime bill which will make intentional trespass with vehicles a criminal offence – according to reports in the Daily Telegraph – and give too much power to the police and could potentially wipe out the Travelling way of life and also make thousands of Travellers either homeless or their lives even more precarious than they already are.

Where are they going to go?

Whilst some Gypsies and Travellers travel during the spring and summer out of choice to look for work, visit relatives and attend events, there are also many more who are fleeing overcrowded permanent sites where they have been doubled up with relatives and friends, or who have no other choice than to live on unauthorised encampments all year round. The Gypsy and Traveller family’s lives are hard enough as it is without yet another hammer blow from an obviously hostile Government. Where are they going to go?

When the Conservatives first took power in 2010, they made their anti-Traveller intentions clear when they bankrolled the massive Dale Farm Traveller site eviction in Essex, immediately making hundreds of men, women and children homeless. Where are those people now ten years later? Its unlikely that they are now living on permanent authorised sites because the Government has also passed laws making it even harder for Gypsy and Traveller people to develop their own sites.

Children at Appleby Fair (c) Natasha Quarmby

Even the police don’t want these new powers, with many believing that the solution to unauthorised camps is not the ramping up of enforcement, but to instead build more legal and safe transit and permanent sites. Yet councils across England consistently break the law and fail to plan for enough Traveller pitches, meaning that thousands of Gypsies and Travellers are on waiting lists for authorised sites for years chasing less than 100 vacant plots.

The laws will also affect New Travellers and horse-drawn Travellers who have been quietly pursuing a nomadic way of life for decades. And what about van-dweller communities that are springing up around many English cities and which are an indictment of our broken housing system. The new van-lifer phenomenon could also be crushed in its infancy. Their vehicles, like those of Gypsies and Travellers on unauthorised camps, are their homes, and will now be at the mercy of the whims and prejudices of local police services. Where are they meant to go?

Horse-drawn wagons count as a ‘vehicle’ and could be affected too - picture courtesy of No Fixed Abode Travellers group

We dread to think what the 2021 spring and summer will bring and we fear that set piece evictions of Gypsy and Traveller people living on unauthorised camps will spark off across the country as the police- egged on by hostile politicians – flex their new muscles.

We will fight these new laws to the bitter end, first in Parliament and then both through the courts and in the court of public opinion. Please support us.

Travellers’ Times editorial

(Lead picture: Wagons at Appleby Fair © Natasha Quarmby)

Notes to editors

The new police and crime bill – which will be published sometime this month - will include (according to a Government source speaking to the Telegraph) making “intentional” trespass “with vehicles involved” a criminal offence if the camp contains two or more vehicles on public or private land, the owners have asked them to leave, and the police consider that the camp is “causing or likely to cause significant disruption, damage or distress.”

The penalty will be seizure of vehicles and/or a 2.5k fine and/or three months in prison.

The Government have yet to publish the new bill and are refusing to give details of what it contains to Gypsy and Traveller charities, yet are quite happy to tell the Daily Telegraph.