Travellers in showdown over ‘racist’ council order keeping them off open land

Gypsies and Travellers are in court battling a council injunction which they say threatens their ‘centuries-old way of life’.

They fear an order by Bromley Council banning anyone from stopping on open land will effectively turn them into criminals and leave them with nowhere to go.

London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) have challenged the injunction fearing it would have ‘major implications’ for communities across the country as more local authorities follow suit.

They say the solution to illegal encampments is for councils to provide designated spaces, but not all Bromley locals who have had to clear up the mess left behind are convinced it will work.

LGT CEO Debby Kennett told Metro: ‘The level of prejudice and racism and discrimination that Gypsies and Travellers experience is a daily experience for most people in the community.

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‘What’s lacking often is the understanding of the context as to why Travellers have moved in.

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‘Obviously if Travellers have moved into a local park because there’s nowhere to stop, that causes dismay, understandably, within the local communities.’

She said the problem lies in a ‘chronic shortage’ of designated sites, with very few new ones created since the statutory duty to provide them was done away with by the government of 1994, along with funding to build them.

Debby added: ‘If there’s no provision made than we in effect have an accommodation crisis for families who want to continue living in their caravans and carry on living their traditional way of life.’

In May LGT won against Bromley Council in the High Court after challenging its injunction application to stop ‘persons unknown’ from camping in 171 open spaces and car parks.

The judge said pushing families from one place to another was not an ideal solution and limited the scope so the order only applied to people fly-tipping or dumping waste.

But now, with the support of seven other London boroughs, Bromley is challenging the ruling in the Court of Appeal, with the hearing due to finish today.

Although the injunction does not specifically mention Travellers or Gypsies, LGT say it is clear who it is aimed at, which they claim amounts to racism and discrimination.

Debby added: ‘These injunctions are just another form of harsh and draconian measures to stop travellers moving to the area.

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‘They simply push Gypsies and Travellers to stop on the roadside in other areas.

‘Continual evictions cause greater hardship for Gypsy and Traveller families on the roadside – encouraging public prejudice, disrupting their family life, threatening their health and wellbeing and preventing access to education, work and services.

‘There are alternatives to injunctions. We simply want councils to consider their lack of site provision for Gypsies and Travellers and negotiate with families instead of making them into criminals.

‘We firmly hope the judges in this appeal will uphold the earlier judgement. This would uphold basic human rights, and recognise Gypsies and Travellers’ nomadic way of life and their long history in London boroughs.’

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Debby says around 40 orders similar to the one they are challenging have been passed across the country in recent years.

for LGT’s legal fight say they believe ‘racist injunctions’ are breaking the Equality Act.

It adds: ‘Many Travellers who live on the road, stopping where they can, don’t do so out of choice. There simply aren’t any other places for them to stay.

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‘Across London, just 10 new pitches for Travellers have been built since 2008 when over 800 are needed.’

A spokesman for Bromley Council says the injunction is to ‘protect sensitive greenspaces across the Borough and thus prevent environmental harm and associated costs of repairing the damage which has previously occurred.’

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He said the authority was unable to say more due to ongoing court proceedings.

A woman involved in a clean-up operation in one of the south-east London borough’s parks which was occupied by Travellers agrees providing places to go could be the answer.

The local resident, who asked not to be named, told Metro: ‘I honestly feel that Bromley could accommodate them in some way.

‘I think the mess and the faeces that everybody had to deal with was pretty sad.

‘If they had been given toilets and other things it might have been a totally different story. I think there should be somewhere for them to go.’

But not everyone in the area is so supportive of the idea, including some members of Park House rugby club.

In August last year their pitch was torn to shreds by around 35 caravans who stood their ground for around three days.

About three-skips worth of junk had been tossed into surrounding hedges and Travellers had let themselves into the clubhouse and helped themselves to drinks from the bar.

The unwanted visitors had broken a lock to get inside, but police would have had a hard time figuring out who was responsible.

Once the site was eventually cleared, members had unpleasant experience of coming across human waste and a dead dog inside the cage as they sifted through the rubble.

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A senior figure in the club, who didn’t want to be named for safety reasons, said he was just glad the clubhouse hadn’t been burnt down.

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This was a genuine concern based on some of the threats levelled at players, who were subsequently advised by police to stay away from the club.

The 65-year-old member says the clean-up cost between £3,000 and £5,000, but a further £10,000 was spent on security to prevent a repeat of last year’s ‘bloody nuisance’.

He’s not convinced council provided Traveller sites would stop other people’s private land from being occupied in the same way.

Local authorities would also have trouble allocating them to the right people and ensure there is enough space for everyone at any given time, he argued.

He added: ‘The sites would be full before you can blink.’

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