Open Letter regarding the implementation in Greater Manchester of Part 4 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, 2022

To: Chief Constable for Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson; Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire, Baroness Beverley Hughes; and Chief Crown Prosecutor Martin Goldman

From: The Greater Manchester Equality Alliance Working Group.                 

14th July 2022

Dear CC Watson, Baroness Hughes and CCP Goldman,

We are writing to you as we recognise that there are widespread institutional concerns about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, both nationally and within Greater Manchester, and we wish to support constructive approaches to working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities in the sub-region.

‘We’ are the Greater Manchester Equality Alliance (GM=EqAl), which is funded through the GM Accord to promote equality and foreground the voices of disadvantaged communities within policy making and service delivery in the sub-region.

As you will be aware, parts of the new Act, which came into force on June 28th, unfairly target the UK’s already deeply marginalised nomadic communities.

Sections 83 to 85 (Part 4) of the Act have turned trespass involving one or more vehicle from a civil to a criminal offence, under threat of fines of up to £2500; up to three months in prison; and seizure of live-in vehicles and property. Along with their homes and liberty, GRT families fear losing their children to the care system.

This assault on an ancestral way of life threatens to inflict new, systemic inequalities on a group whose rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010, and to undermine their fundamental human right to privacy and family life.

Depending on how it is implemented, the legislation also risks undermining an already fragile trust in the police and other public authorities among GRT people and their allies.

Our biggest concern at GM=EqAl is that there are insufficient safe, legal stopping places to meet existing need and without any increase in this provision, a significant proportion of the GRT community will be effectively criminalised for existing. As a pan-equalities group, our members are also mindful of the impact on GRT people within other communities we seek to champion, including LGBTQI+ and disabled GRT people, as well as older people and children.

GM=EqAl is therefore keen to facilitate a conversation with the relevant parties about how GMP and other authorities in Greater Manchester can minimise any harm arising from this legislation.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 already contained strong ‘move on’ powers, and GRT families are already routinely subjected to eviction and even convoying from one county to another.

Around two-thirds of traditional Gypsy and Traveller sites, some of which had been used for thousands of years, were blocked and closed between 1986 and 1993. The 1994 Act granted new powers against unauthorised stopping, and simultaneously removed the duty on councils to provide legal sites, along with grant aid funding for these sites. Only eight out of 68 councils surveyed in 2020 had met their own identified need for pitches over the next five years.

This legacy, according to Romany journalist Jake Bowers, “forces thousands of families to live at the side of the road, prompting conflict between GRT communities and local councils and communities. Tougher eviction powers, fines, imprisonment and the confiscation of Gypsy and Traveller caravans… are not appropriate solutions”.

We are cheered by the fact at a recent, well-attended online meeting hosted by West Midlands Police, a spokesperson stated that the new law was “not supported by UK policing” as it would “further marginalise GRT communities and… be very difficult to impose and enforce.”

The operational guidance subsequently issued by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) is also encouraging, as it entreats officers to “consider the potential impact that issuing a direction to leave, arresting a person or seizing a vehicle may have on the families involved and on the vulnerable, before taking an enforcement decision” and makes clear that leaders nationally recognise “the key issue to address on a national level in respect of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities is the lack of appropriate accommodation for them”. Furthermore, the NPCC encourages Chief Constables to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on the legislation.

We are confident that this reflects the view here in Great Manchester and hope you’ll be willing to meet with our Chair Jules Palfreyman and GRT advocate Sally Carr MBE, a GM=EqAl member, at your earliest convenience.

We would like to explore what can be done to reassure GRT communities based in, or transiting through, the ten boroughs that they will not fall victim to this ill thought-through legislation. GM-wide guidance from GMP seems key to avoiding a situation whereby individual localities take different approaches to enforcement. We would also like to discuss what options there might be for creating more stopping places in Greater Manchester.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

The GM=EqAl Working Group

Julian Palfreyman TS4SE Co-operative (Chair)

Aba Graham Ebony & Ivory Community Organisation

Abdul Shakoor Tameside and Glossop Mind

Alyson Malach Equality and Diversity UK Ltd

Atiha Chaudry Manchester BME Network CIC

Ayisatu Emore Idaraya Life CIC, Ekhaya Empowerment CIC

Caroline Gregory Diversity Matters North West

Charles Kwaku-Odoi Caribbean & African Health Network (CAHN)

Circle Steele Wai Yin Society

Elizabeth Stanley Wraparound Partnership

Farai Nhakaniso Everything Human Rights Community Group

Gail Heath The Pankhurst Trust (Incorporating Manchester Women's Aid)

Gulnaz Brennan She Inspires Foundation CIC

Javed Rehman Bridging Communities

Jonny Wineberg We Stand Together

Julia Savage Asylum Matters

Kush Chottera Europia

Laurence Webb LGBT Foundation

Mari Saeki National Autistic Society, Greater Manchester Autism Consortium Project

Mary Olanrewaju Equal Education Chances

Mohammed Sarwar Centre of Wellbeing, Training and Culture (CWTC)

Nicola McDonagh Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP)

Parvin Emampour Yaran Northwest CIC

Rabbi Simon Grant Binoh of Manchester

Ricki Hewitt Salford Pride

Robina Begum Sensewise Consulting

Rose Ssali Mama Health and Poverty Partnership (MHaPP)   

Sadia Mir Awakening Minds Practice

Sajid Hashmi MBE ADAB

Sally Carr MBE GRT Collaboration

Along with our 20 provisional members.

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