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Down by law

Police say anti-Traveller law could be hard to enforce and that this could be reflected in the yet to be published enforcement guidance as campaigners warn of a "collision" between Gypsies and Travellers and the authorities

Police officers have condemned the new anti-Traveller law in a meeting hosted by West Midlands Police.

The zoom meeting, held on the 10th May, focussed on the new law, which was then linked to the treatment of Romani people in the Holocaust.

Detective Superintendent Jill Davenport, West Midlands lead for ‘unauthorised encampments’, introduced the 10th May meeting, which had over 100 participants from police services and public authorities from across England.

DS Davenport said that the new law, “is not supported by UK policing as we believe that the current powers are enough.”

“The bill will further marginalise GRT communities and will be very difficult to impose and enforce.”

The new law, part 4 of the wide-ranging and controversial Police Act which is due to come into force on the 28th June, criminalises trespass with the intent to reside in any vehicles, including cars, vans, motorhomes, caravans and horse-drawn bow-top wagons. Trespass was previously a civil offence. People falling foul of the new law could face arrest, seizure of homes and vehicles, and a £2,500 fine.

Guest speaker Jake Bowers, Romany Gypsy journalist and co-founder of Drive 2 Survive - a campaign group set up to fight the anti-Traveller law - linked the new law to the Holocaust.

“For the Gypsy and Traveller community, we see a direct parallel with early Nazi Germany because we know that in 1936 the Nazis passed very similar legislation requiring all Gypsies to stop travelling,” said Bowers.

“We feel as a community, that this is a very specific attempt to culturally cleanse Gypsy and Traveller communities from the British landscape.”

Estimates vary, but between 250,000 – one million Roma and Sinti died during the Holocaust, victims of the Nazi regime and its puppet governments in Europe.

Bowers also warned that the new law would further create distrust and a lack of faith in policing and public authorities among Gypsies and Travellers.

“There is a head on collision coming between my community and your professional communities,” said Bowers.

Hampshire Chief Inspector Robert Mitchell, who has worked with police chiefs to produce the yet to be published law enforcement guidance for part 4 of the Police Act, also suggested that the guidance could ameliorate the effects of the new law and said that: “This isn’t the solution that the government thinks it’s going to be.”

“I generally feel that with good guidance coming out of the (police chiefs council) and some ethical standards, hopefully a lot of police officers will feel that they can make proportionate decision making around balancing the needs of maybe some dog-walkers for a few days with that of people who want to live their lives in a nomadic way,” added CI Mitchell.

All new laws which require police involvement have additional guidance published by the National Police Chiefs Council which influence how police officers enforce them.

CI Mitchell also said that he felt that police could come under pressure to use the new law from local politicians and residents.

“The biggest issue I feel coming from this, I feel, is going to be raised expectations among local politicians and communities that, for whatever reasons are fearful and mistrustful of Gypsies and Travellers really because of media portrayal and the highlighting of a badly behaved minority,” said CI Mitchell.

The new law would end up being challenged on human rights abuses in the courts, vowed Bowers.

Lawyers acting for Gypsy and Traveller clients are already starting the process of challenging part 4 of the Police Act with a judicial review, but have warned that it could take some time to reach a final decision in the courts.

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