London Gypsies and Travellers is urging members of the community and the public to complain to Channel 4 television and Ofcom, following a Dispatches programme which claimed to reveal the links between Traveller sites and high crime levels.
The programme, billed as an investigation and called “The Truth About Traveller Crime”, showcased public accounts of crime, linking them to Traveller communities and sites across England.
But it has provoked outrage among the community, police, academics and a range of organisations. There is already evidence of an upsurge in abuse and hate crime as a result of its broadcast.
Debby Kennett, Chief Executive of London Gypsies and Travellers, said the programme was the worst kind of journalism. “It cobbled together old YouTube videos, random footage and anonymous interviews about the behaviour of some individuals and gave the sensationalised message that all Travellers are criminals. The use of data on crime rates around Traveller sites was crude, highly dubious and irresponsible.”
At the end of the programme, Kate Green, MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, was briefly quoted as saying: “Characterising criminal behaviour by the racial or cultural background of perpetrators is unhelpful, discriminatory and stigmatising to a whole community.” Yet the truth of this statement was ignored for the whole of the programme, points out Debby Kennett.
London Gypsies and Travellers had been approached to help with the making of the programme – at the time described by researchers as an investigation into the relationship between the settled and Travelling community. However, LGT decided to not take part when it became clear that the programme was tying crime levels to a whole ethnic group, perpetuating damaging stereotypes.
Elizabeth Yardley, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, who was quoted selectively in the programme, has publicly condemned it, calling it unbalanced and biased and suggesting that its treatment was racist. “It serves to distract attention from the structural causes of social problems, particularly political-economic arrangements,” she says.
Janette McCormick from the College of Policing has called the investigation “appalling” and “sensationalised”. “There is no evidence that links higher crime levels to Traveller sites, nor do Police Chiefs have ‘no go’ sites. Stereotyping a whole race on individual cases drives prejudice.”
Statements of solidarity against the programme are gathering in social media under the hashtag #AfterDispatches. Many members of the community are asserting their value as individuals and contributors to society.
“A programme like this has the potential to set us all back years in so many ways,” said Debby Kennett. “I feel deeply sad for all the community activists who are working so hard, particularly at this time when the community is so vulnerable to Covid-19. LGT will be joining with other organisations and community members to express our outrage to Ofcom and Channel 4.”
You can easily submit your complaint via a webpage set up by Friends, Families and Travellers Around 3000 complaints have already been received.