Gypsy and Traveller Experiences of Crime and Justice Since the 1960s: A Mixed Methods Study

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Social Policy


Historical accounts show that since the arrival in England and Scotland of Romani Gypsies in the fifteenth century, and of Irish Travellers in the nineteenth century, they have been associated with criminal offending. Since then Gypsies and Travellers (G&Ts) have become entrenched in popular, media and political imaginations as criminal predators, bringing property crime, violence, fraud, tax evasion and anti-social behaviour to settled communities. Yet despite five centuries' of such categorisation, there is surprisingly no rigorous evidence assessing the validity of such claims nor systematic assessments of G&Ts' experiences of victimisation. No existing sources of evidence from self-report offending surveys, archival accounts, oral histories, ethnographic or qualitative research can provide an estimate of G&T patterns of offending. Neither can they tell us about how frequently G&Ts are the victims of non-racially motivated crime (e.g. assault, burglary, theft) or hate crimes. This is particularly concerning given the Global Attitudes Survey found 50% of UK respondents held negative views of G&Ts, over double the proportion holding unfavourable attitudes towards Muslims, who have often been the victims of hate crimes. Estimates of offending, victimisation and hate crime are available for other minority ethnic groups.

This interdisciplinary study will produce the first comprehensive, historicized account of G&T experiences of victimisation, crime and criminal justice in two urban and two rural areas of England. Specifically, it will comprise:

(i) a crime survey involving researchers and G&T interviewers looking at G&T victimisation by personal crime (e.g. assault, hate crime) and crimes against the household/family (e.g. burglary, fraud). It will assess attitudes to, and contact with, the police (including stop and search), courts, probation, and prisons. The survey will also ask questions about G&Ts' use of alcohol/drugs and involvement in property, fraud, and violent offences as offenders. It will survey self-ascribing G&Ts who vary by gender, age and settlement (roadside living, official/private caravan sites, unauthorised encampments, and private/social housing);

(ii) community and prisoner oral histories to investigate whether offending over individual lifetimes is linked to experiences of racism and discrimination, and to explore the effects of actions by the police, courts, probation and prisons on G&T individuals and communities;

(iii) interviews with local professionals who have engaged with G&Ts in a variety of contexts, both operationally and strategically (e.g. police officers, Victim Support, housing officers, councillors, Police and Crime Commissioners). These will seek to find out the ways in which G&Ts and their lifestyles are understood and responded to in formal policies and operationally on the ground, as well as documenting where support services may need to be targeted in criminal justice and other service provision; and

(iv) archival research of governmental and other publically available historical sources, including council committee meeting minutes, county surveys of G&Ts' experience of policing and local petitions against official sites.

Taken together, these methods will provide, for the first time, numerical estimates of both victimisation and offending, whilst also illuminating the meaning attached to them by G&Ts, including the place of perceptions of racism in G&Ts' behaviour and experiences. The study will provide insight into how criminal justice and other statutory agencies have historically dealt with G&Ts compared with the contemporary picture. In this way it will build a sensitive account of G&Ts' experiences of crime as victims as well as offenders which can respond to the negative stereotyping of G&Ts drawing on rigorous evidence. This will inform policy and practice so as to reduce the harms of crime for all those affected, in both G&T and non-G&T communities.

Planned Impact

The long-term aims of the project are to improve policy-making and daily practice surrounding G&Ts who come into contact with the criminal justice system, both as victims and offenders. In addition, the project is designed to foster greater cross-community understanding and so reduce the isolation and villification of Britain's G&T populations and the negative social consequences associated with such stigmatisation. In order to effect these aims the project team will work with the following stakeholder populations:

a) G&Ts (INCLUDING PRISONERS): At present G&Ts' experiences of crime and victimisation are almost solely shared within G&T communities, and consequently any experiences of victimisation or institutionalised racism, for example, remain hidden from public view. Across its lifetime and beyond, the project's resources are designed to give context, voice and emotion to G&Ts' experiences of crime, as both victims and offenders. Taken together these will provide G&Ts with a body of information which articulates their individual and community experiences and which puts them firmly in the public domain. Here the aim at the broadest level is to build confidence across G&T populations that wider society, the state and statutory agencies understand the relationship between G&Ts' wider life experiences and their experiences of crime and criminal justice. Further, by providing the baseline evidence for the Policy Brief, participating G&Ts have the direct opportunity to voice their concerns and feed into policy development. At the local level, improved training and knowledge of those working with G&Ts on the ground - via the Learning Letters and online resources - will open the way to better working relationships and trust between them and G&T populations, reducing individual and community-level negative experiences with statutory and other agencies.

b) THE WIDER PUBLIC: Most public attitudes towards G&Ts are formed through accessing, very often biased and uninformed, media. The project's freely available, and highly engaging, resources are aimed at looking beyond the G&T communities, to reach the wider population. Here they will act to raise understanding and awareness of, and empathy with, the experiences and treatment of G&Ts, both historically and in the present. This will build knowledge and awareness and so provide a platform for improved cross-community relations.

c) POLICY-MAKERS AND POLITICIANS: At present government policy - whether expressed through the police, court, probation, or prison systems - lacks robust evidence to underpin its approach to G&Ts. The project will engage directly with policymakers through providing robust and clear baseline data from which they, and non-statutory agencies, can design more inclusive policies, develop appropriate staff training, and implement appropriate guidelines for those working with G&Ts within the criminal justice systems. This intervention will open the door to better informed policy decision-making, and in the long-term build trust with G&T populations that their needs and perspectives are taken into account. Further, the workshop at the parliamentary event opens the possibility for closer long-term partnership-working between workshop participants, including the Ministry of Justice's Race & Ethnicity Board.

d) LOCAL THIRD AND PUBLIC SECTOR: Many third sector workers have wide and deep knowledge of the G&T populations with whom they work. However, they often lack the capacity to develop resources and extend their knowledge beyond their particular organisation. The project will provide them with multi-media and text resources to enable best practice within and between agencies, and hence build capacity. Further, the non-expert crime survey offers the possibility for localities to expand their own knowledge base after the project has ended, offering the potential for the development of locally appropriate, evidence-based service and resource provision.


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