Operation Elven - 'Racial profiling' raids


Susannah Mengesha, contributing author of Netpol, a coalition of community and activist based support groups which monitor police activities and challenges practices which may be unlawful, excessive or damaging to society writes about the recent raids on Britain's Traveller communities.

Last month, several Traveller communities as well as Traveller rights campaigners were subjected to police raids. The police claim the "Operation Elven" series of raids, including one at Smithy Fen Traveller site in Cambridge, supposedly concern thefts of Chinese artefacts and rhinoceros horn from museums and auction houses across England and Ireland. However, police have been accused of serial heavy-handedness and faulty intelligence.

In many cases those whose houses were searched have no connections to the people named on the warrants. In the course of these raids elderly and disabled people have been forced out of their homes, their belongings seized and at Smithy Fen their electricity inexplicably cut off. This included a home where the owner requires electricity for daily use of vital medical equipment. In another case, the husband of a heavily pregnant woman was handcuffed and taken away from his family only to be released without charge.

As part of these raids, lifelong Traveller rights campaigner Grattan Puxon and his wife, a retired couple in their mid-seventies, were subjected to an eight hour raid on their home by Taser-armed police. Mr Puxon was subjected to a body search and his wife was forced to be supervised whilst dressing.

Dave Landau, of Traveller Solidarity Network, expressed his very serious concerns about the motivation for the police's heavy-handed and intimidatory approach:

I don't want to be alarmist, but I think this is a very serious development. The police's 'Operation Elven' strikes me as a classic case of 'racial profiling' and a useful cover to harass the community. It would be like, say, a couple of Jewish people did a series of robberies and the police raided the Board of Deputies and synagogues looking for the proceeds. The raid on Grattan Puxon must surely be an attempt to silence the most prominent champion of Travellers' rights and intimidate our movement."

Phien O'Phien, a vocal Traveller rights campaigner from and on behalf of the Traveller community, made the following statement:

Police have been raiding premises of Travellers all across the country and in some places in Ireland. They are allegedly only looking for a few men and their ill-gotten gains, but are scouring the whole Traveller community as an excuse. This action by the police is very similar to the actions in the 80s against the black community when they raided Brixton and Moss-side in Manchester. "

O' Phien explained that police have stated that the gang they feel are responsible are not even in England, but in Ireland and abroad, another reason why the raids have been so unfair. O'Phien went on to say:

Imagine the outcry if Muslim homes in London were raided because of alleged crimes committed by Muslims in Birmingham. It is as if the defenders of civil and human rights have allowed this to go on without comment. Most Travellers are law-abiding and just want to be left alone, but while we can be attacked in this way, we will never have the right all others have in this country to be protected by the law rather than abused by its police force."

Susannah Mengesha

Operation Black Vote will be participating in the Traveller Movement's National Conference 'New Horizons' held in London on November 14th 2013 which will focus on improving the outcomes and challenging the discrimination experienced by Gypsies, Travellers and Roma communities.