Enabler Publications

Books to feed the Mind and Spirit

Fiona Earl and HerringSome excerpts from:
A Time to Travel?

A time to travel, which has now sold out, chronicled the history of the new Traveller scene; who travels; why they travel; education and health; life on the road and hopes and fears.

This sold out book is now available as an ebook and we have included part of chapter five from this book below.

The Levellers said of it: "This is essentially the definitive book on Travellers. Let's hope it doesn't become a history book."

Also, check out the second instalment to this publication - No Boundaries featuring personal accounts of the real lives of new Travellers and other members of the DiY counter culture. Thankfully, the new book proves that there is plenty of energy and ingenuity left, even if much of it now exists outside of England.

Living on the Edge

Chapter five: (by Herring, Helen Whittle)

There are no accurate figures for how many people are living on the edge of legality on someone else's property, but the Council of Europe estimates that there are over l00,000 Travellers in the U.K., (this includes the media named, 'New Travellers', Showmen, Gypsies, Tarmac and Labouring gangs and itinerants squatting on empty land or derelict buildings). There is a wide spread attitude that only a very small proportion of these people are 'true Gypsies,' and most, extraneous to this definition, should qualify for no status other than that of 'no fixed abode.'

Historical records on the origins of Travellers are few and far between, as most travelling cultures rely on an oral tradition, rather than literacy; the information that does exist relies heavily upon external, romantic interpretations of their ways of life. The contemporary travelling community is a product of hundreds of years of people turning to a nomadic way of life as part of a changing Society.

Many people believe that the only 'True Gypsies' are those with Romani connections who can trace their ancestry back through the nomadic tribes, (such as the Kalderash and the Romungri), that originated in the 18th and l9th centuries, and hailed from North West India and the Middle East. (The word ' Gypsy' itself is a derivative of 'Egyptian.') Any narrow racial or ethnic definition excludes indigenous nomads, the English, Scots, Irish, New Travellers, Circus, Showmen, and many others of non-Romani heritage. While most Romani families are brought up as Travellers, many other groups have chosen a nomadic lifestyle. There is a long history of nomadism originating from changes in economy, government, wars and famine; from the break up of the Feudal system through to the major recessions of the 2Oth century. In Scotland the Highland clearances forced people from their land; in Ireland whole tribes of people were dispossessed by English settlers under William of Orange, and the Potato Famine of 18485-8 forced many people to travel in search of food. Although denied recognition, Travellers are part of a long established history of native people adopting a travelling life as part of a changing society.

In the next section we look at how legislation has always been used against Travellers and is now enforced by local authorities and the police. However, 'life on the edge' is also made difficult by media hype generating moral outrage; the problems of obtaining benefit payments; the complexities of legalising a vehicle, and the limited funding for welfare groups who try to support Travellers.

Legislation

Currently the question of defining Gypsy status is central to much of the proposed legislation which will effectively criminalise nomadism as a way of life in the U.K. More than half of all land in Britain is owned by one per cent of the population, and three quarters by about five percent. So called 'Public land' is owned by various Councils, Highways Authorities, the Forestry Commission, Ministries of Defence, Transport and the Environment, Water and Coal Boards and the various associated private companies, likewise, British Rail and its offshoots, and finally, the Crown, all of whom can take legal action as owners against trespassers. The traditional recognition of certain places used by generations of Travellers as stopping places was denied by the 1965 Commons Registration Act. Since everyone has to live somewhere, but 'everywhere' and almost 'anywhere' is now somebody's property, thousands of people have nowhere to go.

With an already overwhelming amount of legislation penalising travelling and nomadism on the statutes and more in the pipeline, the Government's new proposals for reform of certain notorious parts of the 1986 Public Order Act, and a comprehensive repeal of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, are currently enjoying parliamentary debate under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Bill.

In general, Travellers have enjoyed a relatively tolerant, if haphazard, pattern of relations with Local Authorities and Police under the Caravan Sites Act 1968, (C.S.A. 1968). This Act makes it the duty of the Local Authority (L.A.) to provide sufficient caravan sites for those Gypsies "resorting to or residing in" their area. These provisions are based on the Department of Environment (DoE) figures taken from six-monthly 'caravan-counts' of Gypsies conducted by councils. Official counts fail to include newer Travellers, but of the 12,000 to 16,000 other Travellers that they did count, nearly 40 percent were on unauthorised, illegal sites.

The law obliging local authorities to provide sites can currently be used against them, and Possession Orders stopped if the authority has failed to provide adequate sites. However, once an authority is deemed to have provided sufficient sites for those 'Gypsies' it counts that "reside or resort" in its area, the council can apply to the Secretary of State for 'Designation.' Once designated, councils can evict any Travellers not included in their local count, even if parked on unoccupied land they have permission to use. The problem is that councils often do not count all the Gypsies in their area, and use creative interpretations of the words ' Gypsy' and "reside or resort to". Courts have never yet made an order against councils or the Secretary of State to make them do their duty, even when they have found against them.

In theory, when Travellers arrive in a different local authority they should make themselves known to the council's Gypsy Liaison Officer, who should then liaise between them and the council, finding a suitable site for them to stay on, with minimum impact on the local community. In practice, this is rarely the case; most Travellers are suspicious of authority representatives, often with good reason:

"We were parked at Fewston near Harrogate in 1988, and some council officials, accompanied by police, attempted an illegal eviction. When I asked one of them who he was and what was he trying to do to us he said; 'I am employed by the council to harass people like you.' " Sue

"A big problem for us Gypsies is the councils. They seem to keep Gaujas and Gypsies apart. Then when they want someone to blame they can blame us!" Charlie Smith, Gypsy poet and Chair of Gypsy Council for Culture, Education, Welfare and Civil Rights.

Many Gypsy Liaison Officers see their jobs in different ways, as described recently by one district liaison officer:

"I am employed by the council to locate unauthorised Traveller sites and evict them."

Despite the possible penalties under the Planning Acts, it is becoming fairly common practice for landowners who have been denied planning permission to manipulate councils using Travellers as leverage:

Case: "We were about to be evicted from Ashford Hill and this bloke turns up in a Beemer, saying he's got some land we can park up on. Everyone was sceptical: What's the crack with this then? But me and Luke went off with him and his missis to take a look. It was a good flat well-drained field, screened from the road and away from houses, with a standpipe! Luxury running water! Turns out this guy's been refused planning permission, but knows that if he reapplies for it as a reason to evict Gypsies the council will rush it through. So we get a cushty site for a while, and he gets his planning permission sorted. Funny thing was, his wife was terrified of us when we set off to look at the site, admitting that she would avoid all contact with Travellers, having believed what she'd read in the papers. But after an hours conversation (and being charmed by Luke), she was astonished how her sympathies had changed, and was quite looking forward to her next visit." Herring

A favourite form of eviction is the use of the infamous section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986. Despite constant government assurances to the contrary, in effect it enables police to evict sites at any time of the day or night; with the powers to arrest people who fail to leave, and to impound any homes, vehicles or possessions remaining.

Councils and landowners prefer 'Public Ordering' sites, rather than incurring to the costs, time and hassle involved in obtaining a Possession Order. Supposedly, to be 'Public Ordered' a site has to have met certain criteria:

1) Two or more persons must have entered land as trespassers and are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, and have been asked to leave verbally by the owner of the land.

i) There must be (currently) 12 or more vehicles on the land.

ii) There is damage to property

iii) One or more of the trespassers has been abusive or threatened the land owner, his family or employees.

The senior police officer present (who can be a constable) must reasonably suspect that the criteria in (1) plus one of the tests in (i,ii,iii) have been met before a direction to leave can be given.

Vehicle Legality

It is difficult enough for Travellers to find safe sites on which to service and repair their vehicles in order to keep them 'legal', i.e. M.O.T.'ed, taxed and insured, or to remain in one area long enough to receive log books and licences in the post. (For example, you can be fined up to £400 for having inaccurate details on licences and registration documents.) Keeping a vehicle fully legal and insured is already a complete nightmare, and yet instead of making provisions for these problems, the Government is introducing further laws which will force people out onto the roads in illegal vehicles, where police can arrest them, impounding and destroying their family homes.

Where an eviction occurs, bailiffs must ensure that they do not break the Road Traffic Act 1988 or the Highways Act 1980. It is an offence, in certain circumstances, to tow vehicles without a fixed bar, an independent braking system and proper lights on the towed vehicle. Caravans should, by law, be removed to a legal site. Bailiffs should not evict vehicles onto a roadside, as highways' authorities argue that this constitutes an obstruction. Mostly there are no legal places in a particular county, and police and baillifs may employ threats in the hope that Travellers move themselves, turning a blind eye to illegality just to get them off land. Thus 'passing the buck' occurs; hoping that some other authority will have to deal with the Travellers' next illegal parkup.

Recently, a Gypsy family, who were parked up between two mounds of gravel dumped in a layby, turned an 'obstruction' charge on its head. The local authority tried to win eviction by charging them with obstructing the passage of traffic into the layby, but as the Gypsies proved, the mounds of gravel occupied twice the space their caravans did, so the council were charged to remove the gravel instead!

Case: "We had set off to join some friends living on a well established site at Stratford, but arrive to find only hordes of riot police and T.V. crews. The site has been 'Public Ordered'; everyone forced onto the road and out of the area. It seems there are many small convoys and some larger ones moving more or less randomly. The police are trying to stop them meeting up. Four forces are involved but co-ordination is not a strong point. At each county border we are told we cannot enter; threatened with arrest; roads are blocked and we are cordoned off; trapped by police and unable to drive away. We use a lot of diesel just driving aimlessly, surrounded hy police. Eventually we reach a situation where we are being forced along a road with one set of police behind us. In front there is a fork in the road, one police force guarding the right fork, another guarding the left. They all say we cannot go past their Roadblocks. We stop in the road.

After a few days of total chaos I finally found out where my kids were (we'd been split up by police). We pulled up outside the site; I walked on and found the kids in a bus with Penfold, they're fine. We get some helpers to lift the trailer out of the ditch and push it onto the site. At the last moment the police landrover at the gate reverses so that we can't get past. When I tried to explain the situation, the driver tells me I'm a liar, gets on his radio and confirms it: "No more vehicles allowed on the site."

The kids will have to get their stuff together and we must leave. The trailer must be removed from the road now! We are trying to move it off the road andonto the site. l2 riot vans turn up, fresh from the Cleeve Hill eviction; 6 blocking the road in each direction. All traffic is made to turn round and sent back the way it came. We don't want to block the road, we want to get in, have tea and go to bed. But we're not allowed to. Finally, I discover which officer is in charge. People are milling around, arguing, questioning, all the riot police are out of the vans, standing in the road. I try to talk to him calmly. We cannot onto the site, or leave it in the road, so I offer to move it onto the grass verge, where it was to start with. Another officer says that is no good either. As I talk to the first officer, the second orders his men to pick up the trailer and move it to the side of the road.

By now almost all the people from the site are out in the road, and over 100 police officers. One is shouting at me to get in the taxi and start it up. I explain that the driver, my kidst, their trailer, dogs and tat are still on the site and I can't leave without them, not again. Also I cannot move the rig anywhere, as the road is blocked both ways by people and police. The officer in charge tells me to disappear! I tell him I can't. I can only move forwards or backwards, and when I do , if they still follow me, we will still be causing a roadblock/disturbance. He must get his officers back in the vans, off the road and out of the way. He can't see that.

"Just tell me where to go, don't tell me to disappear!". Ez.

Later, in the same month, a newly evicted convoy of Travellers had been escorted by police onto a lay-by near Bath. They had been told by police that their vehicles would be safe there for a couple of days, so some had gone on site reconnaissance, leaving only a couple of people with the vehicles. While the site was small and empty, police seized the opportunity to break the convoy up still further. They raided the lead vehicles, arresting the only occupant, who was asleep, and impoundied the vehicles on the grounds that they were causing an obstruction. They later released the man without charge. (This often happens to people who are classified N.F.A., of no fixed abode, and cannot prove an address.) The vehicles were now in the pound. The Travellers tried to retrieve their homes and were told that first they had to pay a towing fee for removal to the pound and charges for storage. So they set about raising the money, whilst staying with friends. Two weeks later they returned to the pound with £200 to cover the towing and pound fees, only to be told that they couldn't have their homes back as an environmental health notice was now in force. They had not been allowed to collect any of their possessions, and the vehicles had been rifled through, not properly tatted down before they were taken to the pound.

In consequence, some of the food in cupboards which had remained untouched in the pound, and had gone off thereby attracting vermin. The police maintained that it was a health hazard and refused to release the vehicles. One man was denied access to even his family's clean washing. This stalemate situation continued for several weeks, with pound fees mounting and the Travellers still without their homes. Finally, the police saw fit to destroy one of the vehicles, a double decker bus with a Gardner engine worth over £1,000 scrap value, selling it to scrap yard for £200. This £200 was used to pay overdue pound fees. The Travellers lost their home and all their possessions and were informed that they still owed pound fees and removal charges.

Free samples from the second instalment to this publication -
No Boundaries
are also available to read.

And a free sample from the actual ebook of A Time to Travel? can be downloaded below:

A Time to Travel?A Time to Travel?

Fiona Earle, Alan Dearling, Helen Whittle, Roddy Glasse and Gubby

graphical ebook in pdf format supplied on cd

£10 incl. p&p

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