‘Fight for your rights’ says a Showman at the launch of a new legal unit for Gypsies and Travellers
“But the real heroes in this story are the Travellers from Dale Farm and their valiant attempt to defend their homes from eviction. We may not always win, but each fight will inspire others – just like the Dale Farm Traveller’s fight inspired me.”
Wayne, a Showman with a Romany bloodline, recently spoke out against discrimination in Parliament at the launch of a new legal unit designed to tackle discrimination abuses against Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.
The Equalities and Social Justice Unit was set up by the Traveller Movement, funded by The Open Society, and one of its functions is to put Travellers facing discrimination in touch with lawyers and law firms so that the discriminators have to answer for their actions in court.
Wayne’s speech was the highlight of the event and it fell on powerful ears. The event was chaired by Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister Kate Green, and had John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, speaking from the floor. Also present was the Conservative peer Lord Boswell, Labour peer Baroness Whitaker, Labour MP and Traveller rights stalwart Andy Slaughter, and lawyers from both commercial law firms and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
Wayne started by describing the birth of his son with Downes Syndrome and his subsequent fight with Worcestershire Council to gain equal service for his child that fitted in with his Travelling life. A fight that had a victory when a High Court Judge ruled in Wayne’s sons favour and started his judgement with the immortal line: “Everyone loves a funfair,” which he went on to describe as a “noble profession.” Wayne’s fight for equal service for his disabled Traveller son continues, but in the meantime he has given us kind permission to publish the second half of what he said in Parliament:
“When my son was born disabled I was only too aware of the obstacles we would face – as Showmen - trying to access the services that my son would require,” says Wayne.
“After some time I approached Worcestershire County Council – our home local authority –and asked them what assistance would they give to my son, particularly when we were travelling outside their area.
They told me they would give no assistance at all outside of Worcestershire and that for each local authority we travelled through, we would have to apply separately to them. That would have been impossible as during the Fair season, we travel far and wide and don’t stay in one area long enough to do this.
I believed instinctively that Worcestershire County Council where acting discriminately. By law, every local authority has a safe-guarding responsibility for children, whether they are from the settled community or the Traveller community, and to say that they had no responsibility for a Traveller child when he was not in their area was, to my mind, discrimination.
So, without any idea of which way to turn, I contacted the campaign charity Friends, Families and Travellers.
They gave me advice and suggested I should speak to a solicitor specialising in Human Rights and discrimination law.
I found a London based law firm by the name of Bindmans and contacted them and told them my son’s story. They took my case and, as they say, the rest is history and Worcestershire County Council where found to be acting discriminatory in the High Court and then again in their appeal. They continue to act as my son’s solicitors as the battle is not over yet.
I cannot speak highly enough of the work and dedication Bindmans has put into my son’s fight for justice. They have worked with compassion and commitment to find the equality that my son so rightly deserved and without their help, his future would not have been so bright.
But the real heroes in this story are the Travellers from Dale Farm and their valiant attempt to defend their homes from eviction. They gave me the inspiration to take a stand and challenge what I felt was wrong. In doing so, I have proven that we all have the power to challenge discrimination and use the courts and the legal system if we need to. We may not always win, but each fight will inspire others – just like the Dale Farm Traveller’s fight inspired me.”