From the Daily Telegraph Monday 23 August 99
Lessons for Straw from the Shoreham siege
SIR – How appropriate that Jack Straw’s perfectly reasonable comments on travellers have fallen foul of the Frankenstein of political correctness so promoted by his own Government.
As my constituents know only too well, there is world of difference between the so-called ‘travellers’ and gypsies – a finite and shrinking group with long traditions and self-imposed codes of conduct. For 17 months, up to 200 ‘travellers’ refused to travel and laid siege to the town of Shoreham.
Residents were driven out of their homes by all night parties, marauding dogs, human waste deposited in gardens, and school children threatened by drug-crazed thugs. Shops suffered a spate of petty crime and vandalism, and customers scared away from the town will be hard to win back.
The expensive bill for policing, the council’s legal fees to secure an eviction, and lost council tax while their campsite remained undeveloped will fall on every resident. Everyone, of course, except the 200 freeloaders who can opt in and out of this lifestyle entirely at their discretion. Their complete contempt for society and authority stops only at exploiting loopholes in the legal system to frustrate evictions and collect their Giros.
When I raised this debate in Parliament, Jack Straw’s colleague responded that the law was able to deal with such travellers quite adequately. But undoubtedly the Shoreham experience was made worse by Jack Straw’s own changes to the law that have made illegal occupation of unused council-owned land much easier.
His complacency is coming home to roost. But if attacking the thoroughly anti-social behaviour of these discretionary travellers constitutes racism then I’m the Duke of Edinburgh.
Tim Loughton MP (Con) East Worthing and Shoreham
SIR – While I strongly support Mr Straw’s recent comments concerning the problems caused by travellers who ignore the law and bide their criminal activities under the sentimentality of our democratic system, it is bit rich for him now to point the finger at slow response by police and local authorities.
Surely the only cure for the problem lies within the home office, which was responsible under the previous government for Sections 77-79 of the 1994 Public Order Act. That legislation was surely fatally flawed by the requirement for a social assessment of each traveller group’s needs before eviction could be authorised.
This allowed local authorities such as Leicester, with its long history of left-wing, trendy councillors, who espouse all current politically correct thoughts, to develop the woolly October 1998 Home Office circular so that social services, without police contribution, can make these assessments without taking account of any offences such as breaking into fenced-off and padlocked land areas, driving on pavements and across amenity areas and similar public nuisances.
We now have hundreds of caravans in the built-up areas of Leicester. This degrades the urban environment and allows them to live at totally tax-free expense, while causing enormous clean-up costs and a rise in the local crime rate.
Jack Straw should now bang together heads in the Home Office and the DETR to end this farce
J Coates, Glenfield, Leicestershire
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