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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 21:26 GMT
Gypsies' anger at Howard's plans
Traveller site
Travellers have reacted with anger to Michael Howard's proposals
Tory Michael Howard's attack on the abuse of planning regulations has put the issue of travellers' right at the centre of the political agenda.

But many gypsies and travellers feel aggrieved and discriminated by Mr Howard's proposals to make trespass by travellers a criminal offence and review the Human Rights Act if necessary.

BBC News has spoken to some of those on both sides of the argument with strong views on the Tory proposals.

Cliff Codona bought the Woodside caravan site at Hatch in Bedfordshire in 1997 with 28 travelling familes.

But he became involved in a bitter dispute with the Mid-Bedfordshire District Council which said they did not have planning permission to live on the land all year round.

He described the Conservative leader's proposals as an "absolute disgrace".

Mr Codona said: "Saying that we use the Human Rights Act to avoid planning regulations is ridiculous.

"As far as I'm concerned you can go ahead and abolish the Human Rights Act because it doesn't give us any rights any way."

"I am absolutely disgusted by the way we are still trapped in our current way of life. We have been kept out of the democratic process for so long and it's about time we had true human rights."

To say we are using it [Human Rights Act] in our favour is a downright lie
Kay Beard UK Association of Gypsy Women

According to the Human Rights Act, everybody has the same rights which should not be unduly infringed by government or other public bodies.

Its key feature is that officials should treat everyone equally by assessing their case properly.

Travellers argue that their right to family life becomes an issue if councils do not assess their case for housing fairly and equally taking into account their unique way of life.

It is this right which Mr Howard argues Gypsy communities are using to set up camps wherever they want.

'Downright lie'

But Kay Beard, chairwoman of the UK Association of Gypsy Women, says the laws have not worked to their advantage.

"To say we are using it (Human Rights Act) in our favour is a downright lie. Gyspies and travellers have been forced to provide for themselves because nobody has been there to help us," she said.

I think it is right that everybody should be equal under the planning laws
Verina Hyland
"We have been forcibly evicted from our own land. People have been beaten and their homes destroyed. If the Human Rights Act was working in our favour then this wouldn't be happening."

Research in the 1990s also found that Gypsies lose nine out of 10 planning applications and two out of three appeals.

Although there are no more up-to-date figures, community leaders say this trend continues to this day and that human rights challenges have proved largely fruitless.

Playing field

But the Minety Gypsy encampment in Wiltshire is one case where a judge has refused to evict the camp on human rights grounds despite protests from local residents.

The case is still to be decided by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott but some local residents say a minority of gypsies have caused problems.

Verina Hyland, whose stables back on to the site, claims that travellers from the site have been a constant nuisance.

She added: "We have had our barrels filled with manure and taps turned on in the stables overnight which has left our horses in cold conditions.

"I was very pleased to hear what Michael Howard had to say because for the first time somebody is trying to level out the playing field.

"Somebody is making a concerted effort to tackle this issue and I think it is right that everybody should be equal under the planning laws."

John Baron with Michael Howard
John Baron accompanies Michael Howard in Billericay
John Baron Conservative MP for Billericay in Essex, who accompanied Mr Howard on his visit to the area on Monday, defended the Conservatives' proposals.

He added: "No-one is looking to discriminate against a minority. You only have to look at Basildon to see that there are over 1,000 caravan sites set up for travellers.

"But all those who live in the community should abide by its laws. Unfortunately a small minority of travellers are not doing that and some local residents are being discriminated against as a result."


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