"A direct attack": Gypsy and traveller communities campaign against new law to fine up to £2500 for roadside camp

Campaigners for gypsies and the travelling community have said a proposed government bill could see the way of life jeopardised for thousands who have lived nomadically for generations.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 6:24 am
Gypsy campaign groups have said the proposed laws could lead to discrimination against travellers living in roadside camps and make existing inequalities worse.
Gypsy campaign groups have said the proposed laws could lead to discrimination against travellers living in roadside camps and make existing inequalities worse.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passed its first reading 359 to 263 in a Commons vote on Tuesday.

As part of efforts to overhaul the justice system, Home Secretary Priti Patel has proposed a raft of changes in the Bill, including new punishments for trespassing, including powers to seize vehicles, fines of up to £2,500, and potential prison sentences.

Gypsy campaign groups have said the proposed laws could lead to discrimination against travellers living in roadside camps and make existing inequalities worse.

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Just 21.7 per cent of police bodies support making trespass a criminal offence, according to Friends, Families and Travellers.

Abbie Kirkby, advice and policy manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “These alarming proposals in parts of this Government Bill seek to clampdown on some of our fundamental freedoms and rights and are a direct attack on nomadic Gypsies and Travellers. Some of the cruellest measures enable the seizure of a Gypsy or Traveller’s home and a new criminal offence of trespass will further eradicate the age-old cultural traditions of nomadism.”

The charity said the new laws could contravene travellers’ human rights.

Leeds Gypsy And Traveller Exchange have encouraged travellers to write to their MPs to speak out against the Bill.

In a tweet, they wrote: “We are devastated that the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill was passed. The negative impact this could have on our families is absolutely terrifying.”

There are some 22,710 traveller caravans in England, according to the government, 12 per cent of which are on unauthorised land.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of Travellers are law abiding, and we recognise their right to follow a nomadic way of life in line with their cultural heritage, so any measures introduced will comply with equality and human rights obligations.

“This new offence will enable the police to arrest those residing on private or public land in vehicles who refuse to leave when asked to do so, in order to stop significant damage, disruption and distress being caused.”