UNREST ON COUNCIL GYPSY SITES
|One of the affected traveller sites|
Travellers were threatened with eviction from six council-owned sites in Oxfordshire after refusing to sign new licence agreements.
The Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies were unhappy about police involvement in the management of their sites.
Last September, Oxfordshire County Council passed control of the sites to a new unit which has been set up in partnership with Thames Valley Police. The Traveller Management Unit is led by a police inspector.
Since then police officers have visited the site on behalf of the council, and the travellers have been ordered to sign strict new licence agreements or face eviction from the sites.
Two different hats
|Betty Loveridge wants to know who is working for who|
The police have gained access to Gypsy sites by telling residents that they are representing the county council and therefore can legitimately inspect the sites.
However in one case an inspector went on to threaten a traveller with arrest for swearing.
Betty Loveridge, a resident, says the behaviour of the police is, in this case, unfair, because the inspector is wearing two different hats.
"Either you work for the council or you are a policeman ... If he was from the council, how can he arrest someone? He wanted to be a policeman but he wanted to use the powers from the council to get on to the plots."
Thames Valley Police say that partnerships with councils can be very successful, but they do raise new issues. Acting Deputy Chief Constable Michael Page says;
"It is very difficult wearing two hats, I can understand the confusion it caused. Maybe the lesson for us is that we make it quite clear from the outset which role [we] are acting."
|Inspector Robinson visiting one of the affected Gypsy sites|
The travellers were also angry that they had been ordered to sign strict new licence agreements or face eviction.
They say there was no consultation over the new licences.
Most travellers have refused to sign up to the new agreement. They have also threatened legal action over the police involvement in the management of the sites.
Kay Beard, Chair of the National Association of Gypsy Women says:
"If this is allowed to happen it will be rolled out across the country, we cant allow this! Do they want to make the sites where we live reservations, which are under police control? Would the police be given the management of a housing estate?"
|"It's completely wrong, we don't need the police unit."|
The travellers maintain that they should not be treated differently from other council tenants in the area.
They feel that the visits by police officers to the site has left them feeling as if they are being policed in their own homes.
Kit Gaffey, an Irish Traveller living on the Redbridge Hollow site, says;
"This is a council site, so let the council do what they have always done. Keep it up to scratch and come and see us if they need to see us."
|"I regret the way that was handled and clearly I am responsible for that."|
|John Parry, Director of Community Safety, Oxfordshire County Council|
Oxfordshire County Council has since apologised to the travellers.
It has now given an assurance that the police won't be involved in the future management of the sites.
John Parry, the council's Director of Community Safety, says that the new licence agreements had been a mistake, and is reviewing the terms and conditions laid out in the new licences;
"We have now gone on to completely redraft the conditions of licence."
He says the whole situation has been a misunderstanding. The inspector never managed the sites and only visited them because of staff shortages;
"The police are involved in our Traveller Management Unit, but their involvement only relates to unauthorised encampments, not the permanent sites."
"There has been confusion and I regret that. The inspector has been on sites and he does represent the county council but he has not been involved in the management of the sites."