Straw: I won't back down on gypsies

JACK STRAW yesterday defended his controversial remarks about travellers, insisting that "not one word" of his comments had been unwise.

The Home Secretary, who was accused of racism and of committing a criminal offence under the Public Order legislation for remarks he made on a BBC Radio West Midlands programme on 22 July, insisted that he was right to say that some criminals masqueraded as gypsies.

"It's nothing whatever to do with race, it is to do with . . . people who were masquerading as travellers and who are then committing crimes.

"I do say to people who are sat in armchairs pontificating about this, go out to the West Midlands, go out to Swindon where both the local MPs have been canvassing me for firmer action, go to almost any urban area in the country and see the kind of damage to people's lives which is done by a number of itinerant travellers who masquerade as gypsies."

Yesterday there was little evidence of "thieving, burgling or defecating in doorways" in Swindon and most shoppers appeared uninterested when asked about the problem.

On a site south of the town yesterday, 15 caravans were gathered on a large patch of ground. Inside, a group of women - who said they were Romany gypsies and not New Age travellers - were scrubbing spotless kitchen surfaces. There was no evidence of rubbish among the modern barbecues and gleaming patio furniture.

"Jack Straw should be a sergeant for Hitler," said Shirley Price, who failed to see Mr Straw's distinction between gypsies and "criminal" travellers. "We travel all around the world and it is our life. People should not begrudge us being here for two or three weeks. We are human beings like anyone else."

Her friend Kim Evans, 25, added: " Our problem is that if they hear of one traveller doing something wrong they say everyone is bad. Some of your people [non gypsies] commit crime. We don't thieve. My husband is a horse dealer and we earn just enough money to look after our children." The women said they were law-abiding citizens looking for work in the town. Many of the men do road or building work, or gardening.

Councillor Pete Brown paints a very different picture of the travellers, insisting that they "wreak havoc" in Swindon.

"Mr Straw came here and saw the damage himself," he said. Councillor Brown said that he and the local MPs Julie Drown and Michael Wills had been badgering the Home Secretary about the situation. "We have a serious problem here and it is really upsetting the local community. I used to get calls all through the night with people complaining about the noise and the nuisance."

He illustrated his case by describing an official transit site at nearby Chiseldon, which had been built at a cost of pounds 250,000 to local taxpayers. Today it lies in ruins, covered in rubbish since the travellers left several years ago.

However, Mr Brown could produce little solid evidence of criminal behaviour, mentioning just one occasion two years ago when a group of children were caught stealing sweets.

"They couldn't be prosecuted because they were all under 10. There was nothing we could do. Their parents just said they were terribly sorry they didn't know," he said.

The local police were also unable or unwilling to produce crime figures for the travelling community yesterday. "We deal with criminal behaviour from whatever community it is - itinerant or settled. We do not distinguish," said Assistant Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter.

Mr McWhirter was unwilling to say whether crime had risen or fallen with the arrival of travelling groups. "If I were to say that I would be accused of generalising in the same way that Jack Straw has been accused of generalising. We look after everyone's rights and try and balance the needs of the settled community with those of the travelling community."

John Hickman, chief housing officer for Swindon Borough Council, said his heart sank when he heard Mr Straw bringing Swindon into the argument.

"We have a problem but it is different from many similar authorities and we have developed ways of managing that problem," he said.

Last year there were 27 traveller encampments on council land, with up to 14 so far this year. The council has started using High Court orders to move people on. Unlike magistrates' court orders, these require travellers to leave all council property rather than one particular site. They have also started putting physical deterrents such as bollards on public ground, but this has not deterred many travellers. "There is evidence of intrusion on private land increasing. The problem has not gone away," said Mr Hickman.

Swindon Borough Council does provide an authorised site but the 30 families who live there rarely move on, leaving no room for more itinerant bodies.

Yvonne Roberts, Review, page 4

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea