Gypsy Forum News Update

STOP BURNING AND LOOTING, SAYS FORUM

By Grattan Puxon

A gap in new Government policy allows UK local councils to continue with impunity their hounding of Britain’s 60,000 Travellers, according to a report submitted this week to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Chair of Britain’s recently established Gypsy Forum Cliff Codona, himself a victim of a racially-motivated eviction, says the long-awaited change in UK policy just announced falls far short of meeting Travellers’ needs.While pressing councils to designate land for future caravan parks, the latest advisory does nothing to end the vicious cycle of move-on operations and direct action evictions that are destroying the lives of thousands of families, says Codona.

With delegates from forty other countries, Codona and fellow UK Gypsy representative Kay Beard, last month thrashed out a set of proposals at the European Roma and Travellers Forum which would outlaw direct action evictions and compel local authorities to pass planning applications or provide acceptable alternative sites.

“We agreed in Strasbourg to stop such evictions,” Codona told Ustipen. “The Council of Europe endorsed our blue-print for reform and now we want the UK Government to accept these recommendations.”

He has written to Prescott seeking an urgent meeting to discuss how new government policy can best be reconciled with the Forum’s view that local councils must not be allowed to go on using planning regulations as a smokescreen for ethnic-cleansing.

Codona quotes his own case where Mid-Beds council turned down his plan for a model Romani heritage centre. Despite having earlier licensed the site for holiday  caravans, the Tory-led council hired self-styled Gypsy eviction specialists Constant & Co to bulldoze the 14-acre property.

More recently, Basildon council has voted to spend up to 5 million euro employing Constant to destroy 86 homes at Dale Farm, Essex, the largest Travellers’ community in the UK. Forum member Richard Sheridan has welcomed John Prescott’s proposal for alternative land to be set aside at Pitsea. But he points out that between l5 and 25 million euro in public money could be saved simply by leaving Dale Farm families where they are.

“I think the government needs to take a reality check,” comments Sheridan. “If Basildon evicts us they’ll have the police drive the lot us into the next county before the proposed Pitsea site is even agreed on.”

Meanwhile, the Commission for Racial Equality has as good as said Tory leader Malcolm Buckley’s eviction plan is racially tainted. It has decided to back a judicial review of the Buckley plan sought earlier by Sheridan and other Dale Farm residents.

Next month 40 yard-owners will mount an appeal against Basildon’s repeated refusal of retrospectivep lanning approval. The final decision rests with Prescott, who has so far limited consent to a two-year and one-year temporary extension.

Forum members say they will continue their front-line campaign to plug the gap between long-term government aims and their immediate needs. As a first step they are seeking a moratorium on evictions and a ban on the employment of bully-boy outfits like Constant & Co., whom they accuse of burning and looting Gypsy property all over Britain.