THE GOVERNMENT has announced new laws that will make trespass with vehicles a criminal offence – in a move that has caused fury among Gypsy and Traveller campaigners.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said yesterday, that the new laws will target trespassers “who intend to reside on any private or public land in vehicles without permission, and where they are causing significant disruption, distress or harm to local communities.”
“This new offence will enable the police to fine or arrest those residing without permission on private or public land in vehicles in order to stop significant disruption, distress or harm being caused to the law-abiding majority,” she added.
The new law also gives the police the powers to seize and impound vehicles whose owners fail to comply with the new law and who refuse – or can’t – leave.
Gypsy and Traveller campaigners reacted with fury saying that the new laws were racist say The Travellers Times.
“You are criminalising a problem that has been created by the failings of a political will to deliver appropriate accommodation,” said Joseph P Jones from the Gypsy Council, in a Facebook comment left on Priti Patel’s Facebook page.
Joseph P Jones also pointed out that to get planning permission to develop their own permanent legal Traveller site, Gypsies and Travellers have to obtain ‘gypsy status’, the only requirement of which is to prove that they are – and will – continue to travel.
“Travellers are told they have to prove they travel to gain planning permission for their own private sites,” he added.
“But locally, Councils refuse to provide public sites. Well, racism is alive and well in the Home Office. Through political failure. Be proud of your right-wing achievement.”
To develop their own sites Travellers have to prove to the Government that they are travelling – yet now the Government is making travelling illegal
The Government say that the new offence of criminal trespass will target:
A person aged 18 or over resides or intends to reside on land without consent of the occupier of the land;
They have, or intend to have, at least one vehicle with them on the land;
They have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption or distress;
They, without reasonable excuse:
- Fail to leave the land and remove their property following a request to do so by an occupier of the land, their representative or a constable; or
- Enter or, having left, re-enter the land with an intention of residing there without the consent of the occupier of the land, and with an intention to have at least one vehicle with them, within 12 months of a request to leave and remove their property from an occupier of the land, their representative or a constable.
Reasonable suspicion that a person has committed this offence confers power on a constable to seize their vehicle/other property for up to three months from the date of seizure or, if criminal proceedings are commenced, until the conclusion of those proceedings.
The new law will affect England and Wales – but not Scotland.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana hit back at the move.
She said: “While there’s focus on how the [Police Crackdown Bill] is an attack on the right to protest, it’s also important to stress how it’s an attack on the rights of Gypsy, Roma & Traveller communities.”
“The Tories are targeting some of society’s most marginalised groups.
While there's focus on how the #PoliceCrackdownBill is an attack on the right to protest, it's also important to stress how it's an attack on the rights of Gypsy, Roma & Traveller communities.
The Tories are targeting some of society's most marginalised groups. It's sickening.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) March 16, 2021
Responding to the news, Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers told The Travellers Times: “The Government seems hell bent on introducing tougher police powers for people living on roadside camps, even though all the evidence is stacking up against them – in their own consultation it is clear that most respondents don’t want tougher powers. The views of the majority of consultation respondents have been ignored, opening the door to a harsh and unfair set of proposals which punish some of the UK’s minority ethnic groups, who already face some of the starkest inequalities.
Our research shows that the majority of police respondents are against the proposals and also that there is a chronic national shortage of places to stop. The Government should not imprison people, fine them and remove their homes for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere to go. Another way is possible. Through negotiated stopping and by identifying land where Traveller sites can be built, councils can ensure nomadic families have a safe place to stop, save money on evictions and improve relations between travelling and settled communities. Everybody needs a place to live.”
Responding to the proposals, Jenny, a Romany Gypsy, told The Travellers Times:“My daughter is trying to get a pitch, but loads of families trying, she’s feeling depressed. Her and her partner don’t know where they’re going to go.
It’s not right to criminalise us all. We don’t leave any rubbish, we respect the other residents, we clean up after ourselves, but we’re going to be stopped from travelling. There aren’t enough sites for Travellers. We’re being treated like animals.
They’re always building more houses but no more sites. She can’t get a site, she can’t stop on the road. She’s tearful, she’s crying a lot. She just wants to settle down and make a life for herself like anyone else.”
Article Courtesy of The Travellers Times.