For decades Gypsies and Travellers have been characterised as criminal offenders who prey upon the British communities where they choose to live. Now, a team of ESRC-funded researchers has launched a potentially ground-breaking study that will look at the crime and criminal justice experiences of Gypsies and Travellers in England dating back to the 1960s.
Led by the London School of Economics, in collaboration with the Universities of East Anglia and Plymouth, and funded by a £1 million grant from the ESRC, the project will recruit researchers from Travellers and Gypsy communities to conduct interviews at four sites around the country.
Dr Becky Taylor, a historian at the University of East Anglia and one of the lead researchers on the project, said: "Historical accounts show that since the arrival in England and Scotland of Romany Gypsies in the fifteenth century, and of Irish Travellers in the nineteenth century, they have become entrenched in popular, media and political imaginations as criminal predators. But is their reputation as perpetrators of property crime, violence, fraud, tax evasion and anti-social behaviour in any way justified? There is no rigorous evidence assessing the validity of such claims. Even more concerning is that there are no systematic assessments of Gypsies and Travellers' experiences as victims of crime."
The project Gypsy and Traveller Experiences of Crime and Justice Since the 1960s will run until July 2022. It will focus on four geographical locations – two rural and two urban – in London, Leeds and West Yorkshire, East Anglia, and Cornwall.
"Collaboration with Gypsy and Traveller communities is at the heart of this project," adds Dr Zoë James, Co-Principal Investigator for the project and Associate Professor in the School of Law, Criminology and Government at the University of Plymouth. "We know so little of Gypsies’ and Travellers’ experiences with the criminal justice system. By working with them we have a unique opportunity not only to learn, but also create a positive legacy that will be felt across our broader society."
This work will be supplemented by oral histories with Gypsy and Traveller communities, including serving prisoners, detailed study of public records and specialist archive collections, and interviews with professionals who work with these communities. It will produce the largest single body of Gypsy and Traveller oral histories to date.
The project includes the production of a video and a touring community exhibition. Renowned Romany writer Damian Le Bas will also be using the research findings to produce a number of creative works encompassing poetry, drama and fiction.