Realities Checked – Changing the conversation around Travellers and crime

5 February 2024
Realities Checked – changing the conversation around Travellers and crime

Academics leading an ambitious project that delves into Gypsies and Travellers experiences of crime and the criminal justice system have released a series of films based on real-life stories uncovered by their research.

The seven short films, which can be found on the Realities Checked website and below, were scripted by Romani writer and poet Damian Le Bas, produced by Rural Media, and Romani and Pavee actors played the main characters. They are based on incidents that Gypsy and Traveller participants in the project told the researchers about. The stories, although all true, have been blended and locations changed to protect anonymity.

Realities Checked: DARK TO DARK contrasts the casual prejudice of economic interactions with a moment in the life of a conscientious father and his daughter. With John Connors and Heaven-Leigh Clee.

Realities Checked, an ongoing three-year research project, is the first "statistically robust" study to show evidence of Gypsies and Travellers experiences of crime, and by collecting oral histories, to include their voices within the findings, says co-Principal Investigator Professor Becky Taylor from the University of East Anglia.

“Ultimately, this project aims to change the conversations that are had around Gypsies and Travellers and crime and to move it away from thinking them as always as perpetrators of crime, to thinking of them also as victims of crime,” said Professor Becky Taylor.

Realities Checked: MEN IN SUITS explores the reality of life on the roadside in the seemingly cosy setting of a busy coffee shop. With Tammy Buckland.

The films feature professional Romani and Traveller actors, like award winning actor and film director John Connors (Cardboard Gangsters), Heaven-Leigh Clee (Peaky Blinders), Theresa Pine (theatre), and aspiring actor Jimmy Doherty.

Realities Checked: SEE THAT SCAR? looks at the reality of domestic abuse against a backdrop of determination to live a healthy life. With Liza Mortimer.

Liza Mortimer, Travellers’ Times Deputy Project Manager, who featured in the film See that Scar?, said that the experience was “empowering.”

“I portrayed a Traveller woman who had suffered and overcame domestic abuse by a non-Traveller and who the criminal justice system had failed,” said Liza Mortimer, who is Romani herself.

“Even though I have not experienced domestic abuse myself, being a Traveller I have experienced and seen the prejudice and discrimination we face,” she added.

“While recording the voice over I was taken back by the words in the script. I felt empowered by the words taken directly from the women who were brave to speak out about domestic abuse, as well as feeling empathy for them when they were failed by criminal justice system if they reported the abuse.”

Realities Checked: LET ME GO juxtaposes the working life of a woman with her memories of antenatal care. With Theresa Pine.

“The Realities checked short films used the anonymised words of Romani and Traveller people interviewed by researchers for the Realities Checked project,” said Julie Colman, from the Rural Media production team.

“The films aim to highlight and explore several recurring themes discussed by the interviewees, which were: prejudice encountered in day-to-day interaction with the economy; harsh evictions; poor experiences of healthcare; possible over-sentencing for offences; domestic violence; and violence from members of the public,” she added.

Realities Checked: WIPE IT OVER explores the impact of possible over-sentencing on a young life. With Jimmy Doherty.

“Each of these themes consists of not just the negative dimension of a difficult experience suffered, but also the positive 'counter-theme' of the resilience that is required to negotiate and overcome it.”

The research was based in Leeds, Norfolk, the South-East (London, Surrey, Sussex), and Devon and Cornwall and took place January 2020 - December 2023 with pauses during the pandemic.

Professor Coretta Phillips from the London School of Economics led the research team, with Professor Zoë James from the University of Plymouth as the other Co-Principal Investigator alongside Professor Becky Taylor. The Project received funding from the Economic & Social Research Council.

Realities Checked: BORN ON THE EDGE sees a successful and valued worker delve into a memory of violence. With Faye Freeman.

Friends Families Travellers, LeedsGATE, Rural Media, and TravellerSpace supported and facilitated the research study.

'The research team are still analysing the findings and will be working on a book in the coming year' . In the meantime they will be putting up findings on the Realities Checked website as they come out:

As well as the seven short films, the Realities Checked website also hosts other creative outputs, such as spoken word, graphic history, paintings, podcasts and photographs, which also also reflect the experiences of the Romani and Traveller people involved in the research.

Realities Checked: MY DAILY TASK sums up the other six films and explores what it feels like to be the actual person with feelings who is living in a paradigm of strange ethnic judgements. With Damian Le Bas, Jimmy Doherty, Tammy Buckland, John Connors, Heaven-Leigh Buckland, Liza Mortimer, Theresa Pine and Faye Freeman.

Mike Doherty/TT News

(Lead photograph: Jimmy Doherty in a still from Wipe it Over © Luke Collins)