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A Perfect Storm: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill -Say their names

Lynne Tammi links her families own story of state sponsored persecution to the latest attempt to eradicate Gypsy and Traveller culture.

It’s eight years since we had the new headstone for my great grandparents, John and Elizabeth [Lizzie] blessed at the cemetery in Innerleithen. It was where they ‘settled’ after losing three of their children to child trafficking – a practice undertaken by Charities, Churches and the State following the publication of the recommendations of an inquiry into ‘itinerant lifestyles’ in 1895, a practice that continued up to the 1970s. During the blessing the priest spoke of the persecution they had experienced throughout their lives and how sadly even today we must remain vigilant that the perfect storm that enabled an attempted cleansing of Gypsies and Travellers from our shores is not so easily recreated now or in the future by those in power. Little did we know on that day that a mere eight years later we would witness the breaking of that perfect storm in the form of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill [2021] which under section 4 seeks to criminalise and eradicate nomadism, give police the power to seize Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller homes, fine Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people up to £2500, and imprison those needing to follow a nomadic way of life because of a lack of safe legal stopping places.

John and Lizzie had eight children – Sarah, Anne [Annie], Elizabeth [Lizzie], John [my grandfather], Francis Patrick, Margaret [Meg], Mary and Grace [Gracie]. Sarah, Annie and Lizzie moved across the Border Lands of Scotland and England [and sometimes further afield if harder times were upon them] with their parents as they shifted for work, to visit family or attend gatherings until they met their partners and started their own families – Annie stayed in the cross border region, Sarah also. Lizzie moved over the border to live with her partner’s family in the Durham area. Francis Patrick headed off to the ‘New World’ to work the cranes and walk the girders.

John remained shifting and working with his father across the border lands, and as work dictated into Lanarkshire and Perthshire, to help support the upkeep of the remaining girls – Meg, Mary and Gracie. This was to be short lived though as on 2nd March 1910, when the men were off working, Lizzie and her three girls were taken from their roadside camp on the outskirts of Perth to Perth Poor House by the cruelty man where Lizzie was ‘encouraged’ to sign her girls over into the care of Quarrier’s Homes to do with as they saw fit – hold them in Scotland until they reached the age of sixteen or traffic them to Canada [at any age – Gracie was just 10 when she was put onboard the SS Grampian bound for Quebec and onward to Fairknowe, Brockville, Quarrier’s ‘holding home’ in Toronto] to become at best goods and chattels of or at worst sexually and physically abused by ‘New World Settlers’. Lizzie was illiterate and as papers from the time show, her children were signed over with a cross mark and countersigned by a witness with no evidence that Lizzie has confirmed that she fully understood the punitive and non-negotiable terms and condition.

On their return to the camp Lizzie informed the men that under the instructions of the cruelty man she had to hand the girls over into care as an itinerant life was detrimental to their development and they were in his, and other’s opinion, clearly neglected. A contradiction of what was recorded in the registration papers but no doubt, in the knowledge that Lizzie could not read, they were confident that she would not challenge or contradict their reasons for removing her girls.

Despite her shame and despair at losing her girls Lizzie was confident that they would have their girls returned if they could demonstrate that they were of ‘good repute’ and could provide a more ‘settled’ life for the girls. And so began three years of pleas, claims and counter claims between the family, their advocates and Quarrier’s Homes. The following except from the files and logbooks of Quarrier’s Homes pertaining to Meg, Mary and Gracie example these exchanges.

Record of Lizzie signing over her girls:

Lizzie, a scribe on behalf of John, and Fr Mason all write requesting the return of the girls:

Finally, what was to be the girl’s father and brother’s last communication with Quarrier’s Homes following the response of “All sent to Canada, 24th May 1913”.

That perfect storm

The priest who blessed my great grandparent’s headstone was right. That perfect storm has been brewing for a century and more, gathering strength throughout the 20th century with thousands more of Gypsy and Traveller children being trafficked to Canada and Australia, incarcerated onboard the Mars Ships – correction units for ‘wayward’ boys – and inhumane assimilation practices at UK level including housing experiments and segregated schools.

The 21st century saw large scale evictions become more common place – with, for example, Basildon Council gaining the [unenviable] prize for undertaking what was the eviction of the biggest Traveller Site in Europe at the time [2011], ably assisted with offers of up to six million from the Cameron government’s Home Office and Communities and Local Government departments and Aberdeenshire Council and the Scottish Government’s eight year conflict with the families of North Esk Park.

Meanwhile, the now overt denial of other fundamental human rights and entitlements was gathering pace – witnessed by the Westminster Government and local authorities’ savage cuts to learning programmes for Gypsy and Traveller children and young people and successive governments across the UK demonstrating a reluctance to afford Gypsy and Traveller children and young people access to flexible learning to meet their cultural needs or indeed support and/or fund Civil Society Organisations [CSOs] and Charities who advocate with and for this and other fundamental human rights and entitlements.

And finally, as the storm broke and the rains fell, Priti Patel and her government delivered Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill [2021], a perfect storm of assimilation of our people and the cleansing of our traditions and practices at a level and speed not seen before, in any of our lifetimes. A perfect storm which, if it passes to Royal Assent, will sweep away our rights to nomadism and peaceful assembly and give the Police powers to remove our homes and livelihoods and impose fines or incarcerate us for practicing a culture that has been part of UK society for centuries.

Brothers and sisters, it is time. Time to act [1] before the culture and traditions of a people who have lived in and travelled across the UK for centuries is cleansed from these ‘green and pleasant’ lands.

[1] Drive 2 Survive is a coalition of Romany Gypsy, Irish Traveller, Scottish Traveller, Welsh Kale, nomadic activists, and community organisations who are determined to use peaceful protest and civil disobedience to highlight this threat to the freedoms of all people. If we join together we can make Priti Patel and Boris Johnson think again about their intention to eradicate a way of life that is many hundreds of years old. Throughout the Summer and Autumn of 2021, we need your help to stop this racist attempt to culturally cleanse Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers from the British landscape. For more information on the Bill and why you should contribute to the campaign to stop it see:

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