- Other pages in this release
- Main points
- Experiences and relationships with the police
- Perceived presumed criminality
- Perceived heavy-handed approaches
- Perceived disparities in how Gypsies and Travellers are treated compared with others
- Experiences of seeking help
- Navigating the justice system
- Experiences of bail, remand, sentencing and imprisonment
- Towards solutions
- Gypsies and Travellers in England and Wales, lived experiences, data
- Cite this statistical bulletin
1. Other pages in this release
- Gypsies and Travellers’ lived experiences, overview, England and Wales: 2022
- Gypsies and Travellers’ lived experiences, culture and identities, England and Wales: 2022
- Gypsies and Travellers’ lived experiences, homes, England and Wales: 2022
- Gypsies and Travellers’ lived experiences, education and employment, England and Wales: 2022
- Gypsies and Travellers’ lived experiences, health, England and Wales: 2022
- Gypsies' and Travellers' lived experiences, methodology, England and Wales: 2022
2. Main points
Participants recurrently described a fear of authorities, feeling misunderstood and treated unfairly, which led in some cases to feeling unable to report a crime, and reluctance to seek help from the police.
Gypsy and Traveller community member participants described themselves or others they knew having had challenging experiences with the police, and there was a sense that the police tend to presume criminality of Gypsies and Travellers, with perceived differential treatment linked to this.
Perceived disproportionality and a sense of injustice were common in participants’ narratives of encounters with the justice system, including in the described use of force, presumption of crime and arrests, denial of bail and perceived over-representation of Gypsies and Travellers in prisons.
Laws were also perceived as criminalising Gypsies’ and Travellers’ ways of life, exacerbating the sense of marginalisation and injustice.
Community members were not always aware of the introduction of such laws, including the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (2013) and the Control of Horses Act (2015), meaning that people could inadvertently face being arrested for engaging in their traditional activities and occupations.
Raising awareness, respect and involvement of Gypsies and Travellers within systems and processes affecting their lives were seen as important for improving relationships and experiences in the future.
Examples of more positive relationships with the police included engaging with a familiar community liaison officer who listened and understood Gypsy and Traveller culture, providing flexibility in requesting people to move on, and appearing to show respect to Gypsies and Travellers.
3. Experiences and relationships with the police
This bulletin focuses on Gypsies’ and Travellers’ experiences with the police and justice system that emerged as part of participants sharing their life histories. The issues were not explored systematically and in detail with all participants, and they were linked to broader questions about experiences with a range of service providers and authorities.
The issues highlighted are drawn largely from the accounts and perspectives of Gypsies and Travellers, though perspectives from interviews with local government officials are also included, where relevant. The perspectives of police officials are not represented here as they did not take part in the research.
Although some positive experiences were reflected in participants’ descriptions of their relationships and experiences with the police, there were a variety of ways and circumstances where these were described as fraught and difficult. This emerged in the accounts of different generations of Gypsies and Travellers in the study, suggesting longstanding tensions.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
4. Perceived presumed criminality
There was a recurrent sense among participants that Gypsies and Travellers are automatically presumed to be criminals by the police.
Participants showed a desire for the police and others to judge people based on the individual’s own actions, rather than any possible pre-existing beliefs about Gypsies and Travellers more broadly. Participants also noted that Gypsies and Travellers, similarly to any other group, represent a microcosm of broader society, in which a majority of people do not engage in crime and a minority do.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
5. Perceived heavy-handed approaches
Participants described what they viewed as heavy-handedness in how police deal with incidents involving Gypsies and Travellers. For example, there were accounts of several vans, helicopters and armed police arriving at Traveller sites for what were perceived to be minor incidents. Some felt that this was a different approach to that taken outside of sites, and that this happens more now than in the past.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
6. Perceived disparities in how Gypsies and Travellers are treated compared with others
Participants shared examples of how they felt the police had treated them differently because of their Gypsy or Traveller ethnicity. They felt they could be identified as a Gypsy or Traveller by living on a Traveller site or speaking with an accent common among Gypsies or Travellers, and felt this could automatically trigger a presumption that they had committed a crime.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
7. Experiences of seeking help
Participants described examples where the police had been called to an incident and community members felt they were treated as suspects and threatened with arrest despite being the victim, with help or protection not offered. This was described when Gypsies and Travellers were trying to report experiences of perceived hate crime, for example, as well as in other cases.
Some also described having experienced a lack of support or feeling penalised by the police for having protected themselves against experiences of discrimination and abuse.
A sense that it would be counter-productive to call the police for help and previous experience of having done so to their own detriment dissuaded some people from engaging with the police and led to avoiding them instead.
In their life history accounts, participants also described early experiences with the police that had instilled a sense of fear from a young age, for example when their families were moved on from where they had stopped while travelling.
There were also examples of more positive relationships with police officers. Common factors among these more positive experiences included:
- trusting relationships developed over time
- a sense of mutual respect
- experiences where people felt supported, listened to and treated fairly and with empathy
9. Experiences of bail, remand, sentencing and imprisonment
Some aspects of the justice system were perceived as disproportionate and unfair towards Gypsies and Travellers, such as being denied bail following arrest because of living on a Gypsy and Traveller site or having no fixed address.
Local government participants also noted a sense that Gypsies and Travellers may be disproportionately represented in prisons and felt that this warrants further scrutiny.
Experiences with the crime and justice system were also linked to concerns about social services involvement, particularly among women. While men described experiences of presumed criminality, arrests and in some cases imprisonment, women were also concerned that imprisonment of family members could result in social services taking their children into care.
Some participants shared reflections on the perceived impacts of prison on the mental health of those involved who can become isolated from their families in a system very alien to their own cultural norms.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
10. Towards solutions
Participants highlighted the importance of Gypsies and Travellers having involvement with government and having their voices heard by officials, to improve justice experiences and described relationships with the police.
Participants also spoke about wanting to feel understood, the importance of police officers having awareness of Gypsy and Traveller culture, the need for training, and the potential to build upon good relationships to improve experiences with police, crime and justice in the future.
Some participants also suggested thorough vetting of police officers in addition to training, to protect against the perceived risk of individual officers’ personal views influencing the way Gypsies and Travellers are treated.
Examples were given of work with Gypsies and Travellers in the prison system to address and help to improve mental health, literacy and substance abuse, and provide better opportunities for the future.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
11. Gypsies and Travellers in England and Wales, lived experiences, data
Please note, as this is a qualitative study based on data collected from interviews and focus groups, there is no accompanying dataset.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
Bricks and mortar
This term is used commonly by Gypsies and Travellers when talking about homes which are permanent structures, such as houses or flats.
In this bulletin, “community members” and “participants” refers to people currently living in England and Wales, aged 16 years and over, identifying as Gypsy or Traveller, who took part in this research. Where quotes have been used from local or central government participants, this is explicitly stated. We aim to portray the views of participants and to reflect their words as closely as possible. Some quotes have been edited for language and grammar to improve accessibility, without changing the content or meaning.
Living at the roadside means staying temporarily on public land, such as in a car park or on a verge next to a road.
Gypsy and Traveller sites are authorised places of residence which may be owned and managed by the council or privately.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
More information about the background and rationale, approach to sampling and recruitment, strengths and limitations, design of the material and approach to analysis can be found in the accompanying methodology article.Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys
14. Cite this statistical bulletin
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 7 December 2022, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Gypsies’ and Travellers' lived experiences, justice, England and Wales: 2022
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