Backlash after MP calls for local Romani-led Pentecostal Christian gathering to be banned

3 May 2024
Light and Life
  • Neil O’Brien MP calls for Light and Life annual gathering to be banned, sparking a backlash from Romani and Traveller people
  • Local business owners wade in and also condemn MP’s comments
  • suspends MP’s petition while it investigates whether it breaches its community standards
  • Local police and council say the same event passed with no trouble last year

MP Neil O’Brien, OBE, has faced a backlash from Romany Gypsies, Travellers and local people after he called for a Romani-led Pentecostal Christian gathering to be banned from holding their annual event at a Market Harborough Showground this summer.

The Light and Life Christian Pentecostal Movement has tens of thousands of members, mainly drawn from the UK’s Romani and Traveller people. Adherents pray for the sick, do not drink alcohol, or engage in fortune-telling, instead taking part in Charismatic prayer. Around 4-6,000 people are expected to attend this year’s annual multi-day meet-up in Leicestershire, to come together, pray, sing and make Christian music, and to share the words of Jesus.

Above: Video of the Light and Life 2023 event in Harborough, published on Youtube by Pimmie Docherty

O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, came under fire after he posted on Facebook last week, saying that the “DISRUPTIVE … gypsy and traveller light and life festival” should not go ahead again, calling on the local council to “step in and stop this.” The local council is run by a coalition of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party.

O'Brien's post calling for the Light and Life Festival to be banned by the council

O’Brien also claimed that last year’s Light and Life event caused “immense damage” to the local economy, with business's being “forced” to close.

And on it goes...

The backlash from local people was swift and devastating.

A local shopkeeper commented on O’Neil’s post, “We was open during the festival and had no trouble, actually had a great week of business. The travellers organising the event took me to the show ground to give me a tour. Was a Christian event preaching the word of God – the roads was much muddier than normal but I rather that than the potholes!”

Another local business owner commented, “We opened the entire time last year, no trouble at all. The main trouble was how quiet we were … due to the crazy rumours being spread. Discriminating against this event is ludicrous.”

Another business owner commented, “As a local Business owner, our experience of last year's festival was a positive one. We only experienced extremely polite family friendly visitors.”

A Light and Life adherent who will be at this year’s event invited O’Brien to come along and meet them to dispel his fears, in the hope that it might change his mind "about a minority group that just wants to come and celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ".

Pimmie Docherty
"Come and meet us, it might change your mind," says Light and Life adherent to O'Brien - screengrab from video published on YouTube by Pimmie Docherty

O’Brien also urged his followers to sign a petition he had just set up on

Gypsy and Traveller rights campaigner Martin Gallagher – and Irish Traveller  – then commented that he had reported the petition to and urged others to do so.

The petition slowly reached nearly 200 signees, taking a few days to do so, until it was eventually temporarily taken down by while the petition hosting online service investigated it to see if it had breached its community standards.

The Travellers’ Times approached for comment. A spokesperson replied, “Thanks for bringing this to our attention. The petition is under review by moderators. 

If you have more information disputing the characterization of last year’s event, that would be helpful.”

Change dot org
O'Brien's petition temporarily taken down by - screenshot 13.21 03/05/2024

The Travellers’ Times today replied to with the evidence that last year’s event was not disruptive, and that some local businesses did voluntarily close – but because of the scaremongering on social media before the event and that the event itself passed off peacefully.

After last year’s event the local council published a report on what happened. According to the Harborough Mail, the council said that there were “lessons to be learnt” – mainly around communications, that no reports of anti-social behaviour were received during the event. Furthermore, the council added that it had spoken to local businesses and the ones that had closed did so voluntarily, mainly due to the “scaremongering” about the event that was rife on social media.

Above: Light and Life gathering Warrington 2022 - coming together to sing and pray - video published by Pimmie Docherty on Youtube

Leicestershire Police also recorded no incidents of crime related to the Light and Life gathering last year.

Shortly after last year’s festival ended, a Leicestershire Police spokesperson told Leicestershire Live that, "In an event where an increase in people is anticipated, and which the force is aware of, a policing operation plan will be put in place. This is to help provide reassurance with a visible police presence; support and engage with the community and partner agencies; help prevent crime and disorder, and to help facilitate a peaceful event.”

James Webb, from the Harborough Showground, told Harborough FM that last year's event “was exceptionally well run”, and that they were more than happy to take the booking again.

And finally, Romany Gypsy campaigner Sally Barter, who alerted the Travellers’ Times to this story last Sunday, said,

“O‘Brien has made a blatant attempt at political point scoring here, with his racially motivated scaremongering, using our community and the Light and Life mission, which has God and compassion at the heart of it, to do this is just a step too far this time.

When his own constituents start to challenge him and call out his racist views it can’t be ignored,” added Sally Barter.

"Well done to the people of Harborough, who have seen through this thinly veiled attempt to target and discriminate against the Gypsy and Traveller community and have instead spoken out against HIM and HIS petition.” 

The Travellers' Times has reached out to O'Brien MP, but has not received an immediate reply

Mike Doherty/TT News

(Lead photograph: screengrab from Pimmie Docherty video of Light and Life 2023)