Dispute about future of Appleby Fair smoothed over after meetings with Cumbria Crime Commissioner - says Billy Welch
Appleby Horse Fair organisers met yesterday with the Cumbria Police Commissioner to smooth over what had threatened to become a war of words after the Commissioner had branded the historic annual event a “problem” that he would like to “get rid of”.
Speaking to the Travellers’ Times as he took a break from helping with the clear-up after the fair – which can attract over 40,000 visitors – Billy Welch said that he thought the Commissioners remarks, made during a public meeting with local residents, had been “irresponsible.” He added that the meeting with the Commissioner had gone well.
Police Commissioner Peter McCall, who described himself as a “proud Cumbrian,” also said that the meeting with Billy Welch and other fair organisers, about safety and local residents concerns with anti-social behaviour during the run up to the fair, had been “positive”.
“The unique nature of this traditional event means that the needs and safety of residents, Gypsies and Travellers and visitors to the Fair must all be respected if the Fair is to be successful,” he said.
“I have spoken today to the multi-agency group that manages the Fair and also had a positive meeting with Billy Welch, who like me is keen to address concerns of residents.”
Commissioner McCall had alarmed and angered many fair-goers when he branded the fair a “problem” that he would like to get rid of during a meeting with residents of the nearby village of Kirkby Stephen who had reported anti-social behaviour in the run up to this year’s fair which took place last weekend.
He said told the residents that: “If I could stop it, trust me, I would. We would all like to just be rid of the problem but my view is that we have got to manage it the best we can. What we don't want is pitched battles in our street.” There was a local reporter in the meeting and the remarks ended up being reported in the national newspapers in a sensationalist way. The Gypsy and Traveller representatives on the Appleby Fair multi-agency organising group - Billy Welch and Bill Lloyd - later released a statement calling the Commissioner’s remarks “unhelpful.”
Billy Welch said that the Commissioner – who he described as “a very nice man” - had then come to the site yesterday to meet him.
“I told him that those kind of statements where irresponsible from an elected politician and that Gypsies and Travellers had been working with Cumbria Police for years to ensure that the fair ran smoothly,” said Billy Welch.
“I said let’s work together on this.”
Billy Welch added that he had agreed to go to Kirby Stephens and other villages affected with the Commissioner to help address the concerns of the residents and work out solutions to avoid similar incidents happening next year.
“The Appleby Fair multi-agency organising group, which includes Gypsy and Traveller representatives, the police and the local council, have sorted out concerns from local Appleby residents as they have arisen over the years,” he said.
“We will use the same model to sort out any problems arising in Kirby Stephens.”
What are Police and Crime Commissioners?
According to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were elected for the second time on the 5th of May 2016 in 40 police force areas across England and Wales. Every force area is represented by a PCC, except Greater Manchester and London, where PCC responsibilities lie with the Mayor.
PCCs have been elected by the public to hold Chief Constables and the force to account; effectively making the police answerable to the communities they serve.
PCCs ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible, and are improving local relationships through building confidence and restoring trust. They work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime
Statements in full:
Gypsy and Traveller representatives on the Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group (MASCG), Billy Welch and Bill Lloyd, said:
“The reality of Appleby Horse Fair is it is better run and better policed than ever before and this is supported by significant falls in arrests and disorder.
“The Fair as a whole has improved immeasurably since the formation of the Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group. Every year we keep working and it keeps getting better and better.
“There have been issues this year - especially in the lead up to the Fair at places like Kirkby Stephen - involving a few individuals who do not represent the behaviour of the vast majority of Gypsies and Travellers. This is to be expected from an event involving such an influx of people.
“We, the Gypsy and Traveller representatives, condemn all antisocial behaviour and violence of any kind by anyone and we go out of our way to try to prevent it from happening.
“Whilst the majority of these issues have been unexpected and out of the ordinary, everyone at the MASCG will work together to learn from any problems so we can all work together to help ensure they are not an issue in future years.
“Appleby Horse Fair is a wonderful event with a rich history which brings enormous economic benefits to the local area. The event has been running for hundreds of years – and will be here for generations more.
“We understand the Commissioner is just representing the opinions of people who are not happy but, in this instance, his comments - which we know do not represent the views of Cumbria Constabulary - have been unhelpful.”
Chairman of Appleby Horse Fair's MASCG Matthew Neal, Deputy Chief Executive of Eden District Council, said:
“Appleby Fair is an event that has been in existence for hundreds of years. It is an event without a single organiser which adds to its unique character and associated challenges. The Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group works all-year-round to ensure the safest possible Fair for everybody involved, including Gypsies and Travellers and local residents.
“This multi-agency approach has resulted in a better organised response to the Fair since the creation of the full partnership in 2009.
“We are aware of issues prior to this year’s event in areas such as Kirkby Stephen. When those issues have been raised, we have looked to respond swiftly and robustly, as a multi-agency group.
“The strength of the Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group is that, when such issues are brought forward, we work to find a solution and make sure there is learning for future events.
“It is worth noting that the number of crimes and incidents responded to have, in recent years, decreased. But this year we are acutely aware of heightened concerns within some communities and we put immediate measures in place to provide support to those communities.
“No two years are the same and that adds to the annual challenges that face all agencies.
“Clearly after every Fair we want to learn from affected parties and we will engage with all key communities.”
Superintendent Mark Pannone of Cumbria Constabulary, a member of the MASCG, said:
“The role of the Constabulary in relation to Appleby Horse Fair is to effectively and impartially support the multi-agency group in our policing of the event.
“Our main priority will always be to ensure public safety and we work closely with local communities, Gypsies and Travellers, others who visit the area and our partner agencies to achieve this.
“The annual event has been running for hundreds of years and we recognise the concerns that are raised by some local residents due to the large influx of people arriving on a small area of the county.
“We will continue to work closely with every interested party to ensure that Appleby Horse Fair is as successful as possible.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall:
“As an elected representative, one of my key responsibilities is to listen to the people of Cumbria in respect of crime and policing in the county.
“This week I met more than 100 members of the public at pre-arranged surgeries in Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Lonsdale and a visit to Sedbergh, who were unequivocal in their collective view that they had been experiencing totally unacceptable behaviour from some of those travelling to Appleby for the Horse Fair.
“I believe that the sheer volume of people from the local communities that turned up demonstrates the strength of feeling. Those that spoke about their experiences had clearly been affected by the impact of this behaviour in their community, and made very strong and at times emotional representations to me about it.
“I genuinely believe that the unacceptable behaviour that many people have witnessed is being caused by a small minority of the Gypsy and Travellers community, and would not wish that to overshadow the event or damage the reputation of the law-abiding members of that community who are in the majority.
“As a Cumbrian, I am proud that my county draws such a diverse range of people and events to it, and welcome all sections of society who want to visit and enjoy what the county has to offer in a law-abiding and respectful way. I am pleased to say that I am assured by the Chief Constable that their top priority is to ensure public safety and that they work closely with local communities, Gypsies and Travellers, and others who visit the area and our partner agencies to achieve this.
“The unique nature of this traditional event means that the needs and safety of residents, Gypsies and Travellers and visitors to the Fair must all be respected if the Fair is to be successful. I have spoken today to the multi-agency group that manages the Fair and also had a positive meeting with Billy Welch, who like me is keen to address concerns of residents.
“The police will also be conducting an analysis of their operation to review what can be done in future years to improve, in particular the phase leading up to the fair which undoubtedly raised some very real concerns this year.
“I have asked that the multi-agency management group meets directly with residents in both Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Lonsdale/Sedbergh to ensure residents have the opportunity to raise their concerns direct.”
By Mike Doherty/TT News
(Main photo: Boy on horse at Appleby (c) Natasha Quarmby)