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GYPSY and Traveller campaigners expressed their horror today after Surrey Tory councillors organised an online campaign, urging people to complain – and got them evicted.
Surrey MP and Tory minister Michael Gove stood accused of egging on a racist witch hunt after he sent a message thanking councillors for their successful efforts to build complaints about a Roma camp to put pressure on police to evict them.
The Roma camp was evicted on April 27, less than a week after it was set up on a recreation ground at Lightwater in Surrey, in line with government guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.
A call for residents to complain about the camp was made on Facebook by local councillors.
Within 24 hours Surrey police received 40 complaints alleging “crime and anti-social behaviour,” and police and council officials moved in.
Billy-Jo Sines, a local Romany Gypsy and key worker in a nearby school, said: “The Travellers didn’t stand a chance.
“And then Michael Gove goes and thanks them,” she said.
She said that local councillors knew that police would have to respond to complaints, and that police have the power to evict travellers without a court order if enough people make complaints.
Police said they received “numerous reports” of anti-social behaviour from local residents.
Traveller campaigners accused Mr Gove of “egging on a racist witch hunt.”
Irish Traveller campaigner Mike Joyce said: “We are in the middle of an epidemic and a national crisis, yet Michael Gove — a government Minister — is choosing to spend his time egging on a racist Facebook witch hunt to evict a local Traveller camp. He is inhuman.
“Imagine being forced back out on the road with your children and older members of your family during a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands.”
He said the eviction in Surrey was “the tip of the iceberg.”
“Evictions are still happening all around England. This is in stark contrast with countries like France, the Republic of Ireland and Germany where all Traveller camp evictions have been halted by the authorities.”
Lightwater has been described as “a hotbed of anti-Traveller racism.”
In December, graffiti saying “HA HA GYPSY SCUM GET OUT” was sprayed on the gate of a local Traveller site.
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