Leeds Gypsies and Travellers 'terrified' by Bill which could impose £2.5k fines for roadside camps
A Leeds charity says Gypsies and Travellers are "terrified" by proposed legislation which they fear will threaten their right to live nomadically in the city.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its first reading last week, proposes new punishments for trespassing.
This includes powers to seize vehicles, fines of up to £2,500, and potential prison sentences for those who refuse to leave an unauthorised camp when asked by police.
Leeds Gypsy And Traveller Exchange (GATE), which supports around 40 families living on the roadside in Leeds, says the Bill will unfairly target vulnerable families across the country.
The charity's CEO, Ellie Rogers, said many families living on the roadside in Leeds are homeless and are actively seeking a home at a local authority site.
Ellie said: "Our members are really scared and disappointed. The negative impact this could have on our families is absolutely terrifying
"People may get their homes taken off them and put in prison. Most of our members living on the roadside are families, many with lots of children, and we fear the potential implications of children being taken into care.
“Even if that doesn’t happen, people will be forced to move around a lot more. The legislation says you have to move when asked, or face a fine or imprisonment, so they’ll have no option but to keep moving.”
The Home Office says the boosted police powers will comply with human rights obligations and will target only a small number of Gypsies and Travellers who engage in anti-social behaviour.
However, Ellie fears the Bill will threaten the positive relationships which have been formed through Leeds City Council's negotiated stopping scheme, which allows Travellers to stay on designated sites for 28 days without fear of eviction.
She added: "Lots of people are frightened about unauthorised encampments or may have a negative option of Gypsies and Travellers. Under the legislation, the fear of anti-social behaviour is enough for the police to come out and fine and imprison people, or seize their vehicles, if they don't move.
"There are some roadside encampments that do cause anti-social behaviour and Leeds GATE has always believed this needs to be dealt with in the same way that all anti-social behaviour is.
"But the majority of our roadside members are peaceful people who just want to get on, live their lives in quiet and don't cause any problems with local community."
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.”
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