After literature reviews, project upgrade reviews, and months of preparation and piloting, I’m delighted to finally start data collection for the first project of my professional doctorate. I’m examining how the criminal justice system can adapt to better serve the needs of Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers in the UK. The first step in such an endeavour is to examine how police services go about providing services to GRT communities at present. This exploration of the status quo will allow me to discuss how engagement with GRT communities is carried out, what the barriers to and facilitators of effective engagement with these communities are, and whether there are innovations in service provision that could be transferred to Scotland.
I’ve been really pleased with the response rate so far; you are never sure how projects are going to be received and the forty-six police services I approached were in no way obliged to help me. Nevertheless, I have received responses from well over half of UK forces so far, with data collection far from finished. GRT liaison is clearly a passion for many in these roles, with the screeds of text I am receiving testament to how important people feel it is. I’ve also been lucky enough to get some wonderful advice from members of GRT communities themselves. They have helped me to hone my questions and to address any assumptions I had incorporated into my research.
The really fascinating part will be when I begin interviews/focus groups with Scottish Gypsy Traveller service users, GRT advocacy groups, and other stakeholders. How do they characterise their interactions with the criminal justice system? Do GRT perceptions of a ‘good’ service correspond to the services’ perceptions? Can innovative ideas throughout the UK be replicated in Scotland so that a fairer, more just standard of service is provided to Scottish Gypsy Travellers?
My research is being carried out in the shadow of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being debated in Parliament at present. This bill contains a number of provisions which would directly affect the wellbeing of travelling GRT groups, not least of which is the criminalisation of trespass. Given the structural deficit of sites on which GRT groups can pitch in the UK, this is a knowing and cruel crackdown on a way of life which the ill-informed find distasteful. The majority of respondents to the Home Office consultation do not want new powers for law enforcement, and police forces themselves do not support the criminalisation of trespass. This legislation is ideological in nature; it is not touted with ethnic minorities in mind. Surely the government can do better. The above linked paper is written by Friends, Families and Travellers, one of a growing number of charities who fight for GRT rights. They are well organised, passionate, and most importantly they are right. FFT have created an easy tool with which to email your MP to oppose this legislation. Please consider using it.
*Thanks for reading, folks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.*
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.