UK Guilty of Abusing Gipsy Family's Human Rights

Ecovillage Network UK evnuk at
Wed Jun 30 10:52:39 BST 2004

UK Guilty of Abusing Gipsy Family's Human Rights

By Geoff Meade, Europe Editor, PA News, Brussels

The Government was found guilty today of abusing the human rights of a 
gypsy family evicted from land in Leeds where they had lived for 13 years.

James Connors, 49, and his family, described in court as living “in or 
about” Lancashire, were awarded nearly £10,000 in damages and £14,000 costs 
and expenses by Human Rights judges in Strasbourg.

The family successfully claimed their eviction by local authority officials 
in the middle of the night from their long-term home breached the Human 
Rights Convention which guarantees the “right to respect for private and 
family life”.

The judges said the “vulnerable position” of gypsies as a minority meant 
that special consideration had to be given to their needs and their 
different lifestyle.

“To that extent, there was a positive obligation on the United Kingdom to 
facilitate the gypsy way of life,” said today’s ruling.

Mr Connors and his family were characterised in court as “gypsies who led a 
traditional travelling lifestyle.”

For 13 years they occupied an official local authority-designated gypsy 
site at Cottingley Springs in Leeds.

In February 1997 they moved on, complaining about the violence that made it 
unsafe for their children to play and the noise which disturbed their sleep.

But within 18 months the family returned, giving up efforts to adapt to 
life in a rented house.

They were licensed once more to live on a site at Cottingley Springs – 
subject to promising that they and their guests would not cause a 
“nuisance” to neighbours on or near the site.

On March 29, 1999, Mr Connors’s adult daughter Margaret Connors was granted 
a licence to occupy the adjacent plot, where she lived with Michael 
Maloney. Mr Connors’s adult sons were frequent visitors.

The arrangements ended on January 31, 2000, the judges were told, when 
notice to quit was served on the family.

They were ordered to vacate both plots, on the grounds that Michael Maloney 
and Mr Connors’s children misbehaved and caused “considerable nuisance” at 
the site.

At the time of eviction Mr and Mrs Connors were living with their four 
young children, aged 14, 13, 10 and four months.

The baby had kidney problems and Mrs Connors had suffered asthmatic attacks 
requiring hospital treatment.

Mr Connors, too, was awaiting a hospital appointment for chest pains.

In the midst of their troubles, the court heard, council officials arrived 
in the early hours of August 1, 2000, and evicted the family in a five-hour 

Mr Connors, who says the family’s caravan was seized and not returned, 
claims no assistance or advice was given about where they could go, except 
for an offer of accommodation at Bridlington on the east coast – away from 
the family’s established community ties.

Since the eviction, Mr Connors’s lawyers said, the family had been moved on 
repeatedly – leading to stress which contributed to his wife’s decision to 
move into a house and separate from her husband in May 2001.

Lawyers for the Government maintained that Mr Connors in fact moved in with 
his wife and youngest child in late 2002, and that the eviction was not a 
breach of human rights under the Human Rights Convention.

But the Human Rights judges said there was no doubting the seriousness of 
the position the Connors family was in – evicted from their long-term site, 
unable to find a legal alternative site for their caravan, and coping with 
health problems: “The family was, in effect, rendered homeless, with the 
adverse consequences on security and well-being which that entailed.”

The question was whether the laws applied to the occupation of pitches on 
local authority gypsy sites offered Mr Connors sufficient “procedural 
protection of his rights”.

There had been a serious, unjustified, interference in his human rights, 
said the judges, adding: “The mere fact that anti-social behaviour occurred 
on local authority gypsy sites could not, in itself, justify a summary 
power of eviction, since such problems also occurred on local authority 
housing estates and other mobile home sites.”

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