E-mail to The News with several cc-s: Trashing Travellers also hurts Portsmouth.

Dear editor,

I recently came upon an article in your publication that was so biased and irresponsible that it shocked me. I considered reporting it to IPSO right away but decided to contact you first. I am copying IPSO in on this e-mail, however, and I am also copying in the leader of Portsmouth City Council (PCC), the local Green Party and the MP for Portsmouth South as well as representatives of the groups of people who were disadvantaged in the article.

Why was this biased reporting irresponsible? Because it risked whipping up aggression against one of the most abused minorities in the UK, people who are abused merely because they lead a different lifestyle from the majority. That description – leading a different lifestyle from the majority – also applies to the leader of Portsmouth City Council. Would you have written about him in a similarly biased way? I doubt it.

But the way he lives his life was considered a crime until fairly recently. In addition, he has a mild invisible so-called “disability” (according to what he said to me during a conversation we had in 2019). It is often forgotten but all three groups of people (that is, Roma and Gypsies, technically not Travellers, along with gay people and people with disabilities) were also hunted and “exterminated” by the Nazis in WWII. So why don’t you paint Portsmouth’s City Council Leader with the same brush that you used for the Travellers?

I have no choice but to conclude that you engaged in blatant discrimination of an often persecuted minority, a group that Home Secretary Priti Patel essentially plans to criminalise in their entirety, sadly enough, something that various organizations such as Docs Not Cops and MedAct are greatly concerned about.

“Even the mildest otherisation primes people for aggression,” Oxford neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor wrote in her book “Cruelty. Human evil and the human brain.” You did more than that. That makes your reporting irresponsible.

The article in question is this:

https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/crime/anger-as-more-than-a-dozen-caravans-set-up-camp-on-milton-common-in-portsmouth-3328524

It was followed by this:

https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/people/portsmouth-council-prepares-for-court-hearing-after-beginning-legal-proceedings-to-evict-travellers-who-set-up-more-than-a-dozen-caravans-on-milton-common-3329180


It concerns a small group of Travellers (also known as Pavees or Mincéirs, so I understand) who were parked on a triangle of low-lying council-owned land here in Portsmouth right next to a very busy through-road from which commuters could see them. I had spotted them too. There was no concern in the article as to whether there was any flooding on the land in view of the recent rains. Instead, it mentioned rubbish.

When I went to the site today, I discovered not only that the Travellers are gone, but also that there are very good other reasons why you must publish a balanced follow-up article to retain your credibility as an independent reliable and professionally responsible local news source.

Rubbish left behind (photos enclosed; taken on 1 August 2021)

I spotted three main kinds of rubbish on the site in question:

  • Irresponsibly animal-unfriendly rubbish deliberately left behind by the “Stop Aquind” activities
  • Small mountains of garden waste
  • Packaging of a Bestway Lay-Z-Spa and a metal file cabinet, as part of or deposited before the garden waste

PCC’s amateurish response to the group of Travellers

PCC sent the Anti-Social Behaviour unit over. This is not what a responsible city council does. Even though PCC apparently has no specialised unit for Traveller matters, sending the Anti-Social Behaviour unit over is offensive and not aimed at engaging but a hostile act. The way the majority of us are living is very unhealthy, but nowhere have I read that these Travellers were going around knocking on people’s doors in Portsmouth, telling them to stop living in their indoor environments, often contaminated with a large level of toxic chemical compounds that can come from cookware, cleaning products, candles, their furniture and many other items and also often laden with mould spores. Many Travellers, so I understand, also consider the way we mainstream folks live rather dirty because many of us keep animals inside our homes. They leave us in peace. They cause no problems. They stand on a site for a short while and then they’re gone again, like a flock of migrating birds that lands for a sip of water and a few days of repose before continuing their travels.

If this has not persuaded you yet to change your views and portrayal of Travellers, then consider the following.

It has been mentioned in a TV documentary by ITV and I also know from my own experience of 12+ years in Portsmouth that Portsmouth has a problem with excessive insularity and often presents itself in a hostile manner to strangers. We’ve had many fights in Portsmouth recently, some with up to 200 people. Because of the tensions caused by the pandemic, more of this kind of trouble among young people can be expected throughout the UK for a while, not just in Portsmouth. Perhaps Portsmouth is particularly vulnerable in this area, however. In short, the last thing we need is more hostility. We must not fan these fires.

As the City Council Leader recently stated, he is very happy that we will soon have new cruise ships moor here and he would like to see these cruise ship passengers enjoy Portsmouth. More fights do not fit into that scenario. That said, these cruise ship passengers are often “rich” older Americans who are not interested in keeping up appearances (rich from a UK point of view, where 30% of the population lives in poverty and 90% of the population is not immensely well-to-do either). They are also often scientists, retired or not, which is another group of people who are not very concerned with what they look like, perhaps even more so if they’re slightly older.

These cruise passengers, in other words, are often people who may stand out like sore thumbs to many of the locals and many of the locals may mistake them for very poor people and (illegal) migrants. How do I know that? Because I have friends and colleagues who go on such cruises. When I picked two of them up at a cruise terminal in Southampton a few years ago, I was a little bit concerned that they might get hassled in Southampton, because of the way they were dressed, the way they looked, white trainers and all, something that I too used to be oblivious to, things that people in places like Amsterdam pay absolutely no attention to. I was pleased that these two women, a microbiologist and her aunt, were travelling on to London the same day.

I hope I have gotten your attention now and have made my point sufficiently clear.

Below is a list of random links to articles I found about Travellers. There are other online resources too. I learned a few things from them. I imagine that you may too.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best regards,

Angelina Souren

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/06/racism-gypsy-damian-le-bas-travellers-stopping-places

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/gypsy-travellers-discrimination-stigma-poster-campaign

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/25/truth-about-gypsy-traveller-life-women

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/irish-travellers-uphold-the-traditions-of-a-bygone-world

https://travellermovement.org.uk/

https://www.qni.org.uk/resources/engaging-with-the-gypsy-and-traveller-community-during-covid-19/

the now empty spot in question is next to a very busy through-road, used mostly for commuting in and out of Portsmouth, even still fairly busy on weekends
plain silly, not necessarily harmful
harmful
harmful
garden waste