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Last Updated: Monday, 11 April, 2005, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Traveller to stand against Howard
Sylvia Dunn with campaign manager Joe Jones
A Gypsy is to stand against Conservative leader Michael Howard in his Folkestone constituency at the general election.

Sylvia Dunn said she was taking a stand against racism perpetrated by national politicians and the press.

Mrs Dunn has fought eviction battles for almost 50 years, but lives on her own legal site near Rayleigh, Essex.

Mr Howard last week dismissed claims his policies on illegal traveller sites were racially motivated or unfair.

Mrs Dunn, a partially disabled widow, said she had been prompted to act after Mr Howard had focused on travellers in his election campaigning.

She said she will stand against Mr Howard in his Folkstone constituency - and plans to appeal to ordinary working people.

Campaign launch

Last week, a coalition of Gypsy and traveller groups launched a seven-point election manifesto. They urged MPs to make councils provide more official sites, or support private developments.

TORIES' FIVE-POINT PLAN
Review of the Human Rights Act to ensure it does not clash with laws against unauthorised land development
New powers for councils to remove illegal caravans and the option of larger court fines
Local authorities to be able to purchase land compulsorily where there is a continuing breach of a Stop Notice
Revised guidance to police on traveller trespass and criminal or anti-social behaviour on traveller sites
Empowering local people to decide on the location of traveller sites

Official figures show the UK is short of at least 3,500 legal stopping places for travelling communities, while the number of unauthorised sites has increased.

In March Michael Howard said a Conservative government would criminalise trespass onto land by travellers. He pledged to review the Human Rights Act and give local people a say in the location of sites.

Announcing her candidacy at a rally, Mrs Dunn said it was time her community took on prejudice. Her campaign is being supported by Peace and Progress, the left-wing party launched by actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave.

"The things Michael Howard has said about Gypsies and Travellers are absolutely vile. They are motivated by racism. We followed the advice that his Conservative government gave us - to buy our own land and develop it.

"We worked hard to get the money together and then what happens? We got nowhere. This nasty gentleman is saying stamp on the camps.

'Persecuted'

"He is the son of an illegal immigrant and now he has decided to turn from being the persecuted to the persecutor."

Michael Howard views a traveller site
Michael Howard: Took a look at a camp in March

A spokesman for Mr Howard declined to comment on Mrs Dunn's prospective candidacy in Folkestone.

Last week, however, Mr Howard rejected claims that he was racist after one Gypsy campaigner said he planned to report the Conservative leader to the police.

"People who claim it's racist to raise the issue of the small minority of travellers who are openly abusing our planning system are wrong," said Mr Howard.

"It is not. It has nothing to do with race. It's about common sense. And it's about making sure people abide by the law."

But Mrs Dunn accused Mr Howard of playing political mischief.

"We can't have the likes of Michael Howard peeping over the fence to look at a site. If he wants to do that, he can come in for a cup of tea and talk to us properly."

Labour has defended its handling of traveller issues, saying its new strategy, introduced this year, combines tough sanctions on illegal sites with greater responsibility on councils to solve the problem.

The Conservatives say Labour's introduction of the Human Rights Act is allowing travellers to overturn local concerns.

The Liberal Democrats say however government should be tougher still on councils to ensure they all share the political pain equally.

Other candidates standing in Folkestone and Hythe in the general election are Lord Toby Jug Borthwick (Monster Raving Loony Party), Peter Carroll (Liberal Democrat), Hazel Dawe (Green), Petrina Holdsworth (UK Independence Party), Rodney Hylton-Potts (Get Britain Back Party), Grahame Leon-Smith (Senior Citizens Party), Maureen Tomison (Labour).



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