Letter: Turning gypsies into criminals

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights has very grave concerns regarding the implications of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill (clauses 45-61). Approximately 40 per cent of travellers have no legal resting place. If the Bill is passed, they will be criminalised. If vehicles and homes are seized, the men sent to prison, the children taken into care, the cost in financial and human terms will be horrendous.

Gypsy and traditional travellers have travelled this country for many centuries. The repeal of the Caravan Sites Act (Clause 61) will sweep away 25 years of hard work by councils who have complied with the Act, by traveller education services, by various health agencies and by organisations such as this one. It would make much more sense if councils that have not complied with the 1968 Act were brought to task for breaking the law.

The Government plans include two alternatives. One is for travellers to provide their own sites. Yet Circular 1/94 from the Department of the Environment is withdrawing the previous guidance, which indicated that it might be necessary to accept the establishment of gypsy sites in protected areas, including Green Belts. Given that the majority of planning applications from gypsies are already turned down, it will become increasingly difficult for people to buy land and obtain planning permission.

The second is to 'encourage' travellers into permanent housing. Those who have wished to do this have remained on council waiting lists for years, with no success. Thousands of others have no wish to move into brick. Even if they wished to do so, however, where is the housing stock? With homelessness an increasing problem in this country, does it make sense to contemplate creating thousands more homeless people?

We believe that certain aspects of the Criminal Justice Bill are racially discriminatory. At worst they constitute a form of ethnic cleansing, at best cultural genocide. We therefore urge the Government to think again before implementing legislation that will lead to the criminalising of gypsies and travellers because of the inequality of regard in which many hold us.

Yours faithfully,

CHARLIE SMITH

Chairman

The Gypsy Council

Thundersley,

Essex

(Photograph omitted)

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