Gypsy groups split over libel case

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The Independent Online
Britain's gypsy community is to be split by a large-scale court battle, with the president of the National Gypsy Council, Hughie Smith, suing members of rival traveller associations for libel.

Writs have been served by lawyers acting for Mr Smith, who has been upset by claims that he has mismanaged travellers' sites that his group runs for local authorities.

In his statement of claim, Mr Smith has alleged that articles and letters written about himimplied that he profited personally from these operations.

Eight defendants deny libel. They include officers of the Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights, and members of the Society of Travelling People and the National Romani Rights Association.

The Cheshire-based National Gypsy Council has been the only traveller group regularly to receive a grant from the Department of the Environment. It manages sites for local councils, mostly in the north of England, sometimes under licence. Mr Smith has been its president since 1973.

One article that forms part of the action appeared in the Northern Gypsy Voice magazine in 1993. It is quoted as saying: "Hughie Smith . . . appears to be only interested in his own business."

Mr Smith is also suing over a letter, said to be from the Society of Travelling People. It is quoted as saying: "There have been many reported instances of mismanagement by Mr Smith, when he has taken over a licence for a site. Bully tactics and threats are often used by Mr Smith to replace wardens and to evict families whom he doesn't want on the site."

The case, for which no date has yet been set, could be lengthy, with more than 50 libels detailed.