The untruth about Traveller crime: Channel 4 Dispatches


The truth, as we all know can come in many different guises: Your truth, my truth, their truth; all relatively true, but all through potentially very different lens.

The lens that the Channel 4 Dispatches team chose when making the programme, ‘The Truth about Traveller Crime, was to take some truths and use them, not to have an objective debate about a problem with a minority of individuals in some Traveller sites, but to demonise and vilify the whole Traveller community that will not only further divide Travellers from wider society, but could also have the effect of worsening their inequality gap, which is already chronic.

The Channel 4 Dispatches team will have been acutely aware that Roma Gypsy and Travellers are amongst the most abused, vilified, at times poverty stricken people in the UK today. They have some of the highest unemployment rates , least likely to be given jobs, decent housing, good health care and good education. The problem about having enough legal sites for them to live only excerabates an already very difficult housing situation. So the starting point, in general for all Travellers according to any Government data is not great. And yet despite all of that, overall crime rate for one of the most deprived communities in the country is better than the national average. Please read that last sentence again, because a very different story could have legitimately been told. But that really didn’t fit the Dispatches sensationalist narrative that cared not one jot about vilifying a whole community.

And even when the Dispatches did speak to Travellers- two out of the whole programme- one of those was Pat Doherty, who tried to be honest and lay bare some real challenges Travellers face, when he said, within some of the Travellers sites you might have a two or three families who are causing a lot of trouble, and its shocking because we then all get blamed. He also said, which I think was worthy of more discussion, that there was drug issue within some sites too that was causing a disproportionate amount of problems. Nobody would deny, not least within Traveller communities, as with All communities, there are some very real and important challenges they/ we must face and they would also recognise that it’s racist to call out criminality, it is however, deeply suspect borderline racist when a programme maker characterises the whole community by the actions of a tiny minority.

The sad part about this style of sensationalist TV is that it neither helps those communities nor the police who would like a better relationship with Traveller groups . As Doherty argued, the elders of the sites clearly don’t what high levels of crime committed by a few families. The impact of this type of Traveller community demonization will only make matters worse. We should not be surprised if some now feel less likely to engage and turn their backs on wider society thinking ; ‘they hate us, so we’ll hate them back’.

I’ve worked with Traveller and Roma Groups both here and right across Europe. Their desire to belong to wider society with their pride, culture and dignity intact is as strong as any other community I know. Dialogue, greater equality, and respect are three of the most key elements to achieve that goal. But what Channel 4 Dispatches did last week was to trash all of that, for what, a viewing spike for the ratings?

Well, Channel 4 I hope you think it was worth it because in doing so you will have further divided communities and set Traveller equality back a long way.

Simon Woolley