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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A perverse decision

The decision by the Commission for Racial Equality to take legal action under the Race Relations Act against a local resident who collected 953 signatures on a petition against a possible official travellers’ site near his home is one of the most bizarre I have come across for some time. It just flies in the face of commonsense.

In a press statement yesterday the CRE confirmed that they are considering prosecuting Carl Lewis, who organised the petition, under Section 31 of the Race Relations Act, which makes it lawful to bring pressure on someone to act in a discriminatory way. They have argued that Mr. Lewis’ actions are preventing people from ‘understanding how proper solutions to the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers are to the benefit of all and can build positive relations between the settled and travelling members of local communities’.

As far as I am aware there are no plans to put a second travellers’ site in this area. There is already one official encampment, which has wide acceptance in the local community, but an illegal occupation of a Council car park is causing a number of problems for residents. The Council is taking legal action to evict a number of individuals from this site and is currently discussing how it will meet its statutory obligations to them. I have checked on the wording of the petition and it is straightforward referring only to an 'itinerant travellers site'. This intervention by the CRE in my view is a perverse and unwelcome intrusion on this process.

Whatever one’s views on this matter, the prosecution of local residents who are using legitimate and democratic means to bring their concerns to the attention of the local Council, will set a dangerous and unwelcome precedent. If for example the Council were to proceed with an official site and lodged a planning application would the CRE determine that anybody who objected to it, and any Councillor who spoke against it, were acting in breach of the Race Relations Act?

There are fundamental freedom of speech issues here that are not helped by the CRE’s own inconsistency. They are not for example prosecuting the Labour Party, who put out a leaflet in the by-election calling on people to vote for them so as to get rid of the gypsy site. Nor are they prosecuting the BNP who also put out dubious literature during the recent by-election.

What this prosecution will do is to harden attitudes within the local community when a more conciliatory approach might have got better results. If local politicians are playing politics with this issue then so are the CRE. We need solutions not recriminations.
That's outrageous. It's just beyond belief.

When right-wingers like Peter Hitchens say things like:

"A modern British liberal will defend to the death your right to agree with him. Disagree, and he will call the police."

- you can be sure it's incidents like this that give him ammunition.
This is an extremely sinister and anti-democratic development.

I think it unlikely that the CRE expect to win. It's almost certainly aimed at anyone else considering such a move.

So do our freedoms vanish, a small slice at a time.
Congratulations on your radio performance yesterday. The comments from the CRE rep should worry every democratic in the land. Rather than helping to improve race relations he seems determined to make matters worse.Perhaps he needs to go to the Republic of Ireland and see the attitude of Irish citizens to so called travellers.If the county court judge rejects the CRE application for an injunction they face real humiliation. If he grants it then it is quite possible that we could see this whole sorry saga wind its way through the courts of the land because of the fundamental attack on freedom of speech initiated by the CRE. The losers in all of this will of course be the travellers themselves with prejudices being confirmed by the crass attitude of the CRE in Wales.
Shocker. Don't let this issue fall. No doubt the CRE will blame some minion and employ PR wonks to apologise when this case hits the national press (and I pray it will).

Perhaps one course of action would be for this chap to sue the CRE for defamation when their law suit fails.

Shabby behaviour by the CRE. This is the sort of crap we would censure Russia and Iran for.
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