DAILY MAIL REPORTS ON POTTON AND STOTFOLD 2009...de ja vu? Jan 23. 2013 | Comments (2)
Yet all of them, and thousands of other residents in Stotfold (population 8,500) and surrounding villages, are now having to defend themselves against accusations of racism.
So were their names perhaps on the membership list of the British National Party which was posted anonymously on the internet recently?
Far from it. The 'damning evidence', as it turns out, is contained in council questionnaires, completed in good faith by the likes of the Huckles, to provide feedback on plans to build gipsy camps in the area.
Another permanent site in White City, West London. The Government has told local authorities to find more sites to solve a housing crisis in the gipsy community
Mr Masterton insisted Stotfold was 'too small to cope with the influx'. Mr Bowskill was worried about the added pressure on local services.
The Colliers, the Chalmers and the Huckles cited 'fear of crime'. Someone else thought one of the proposed sites was too near an old people's home.
Another that it was too close a leisure centre. And so it went on...
In the eyes of Mid-Bedfordshire District Council (but no one else of sane mind) this amounted to outrageous racial discrimination.
When the forms started arriving back at what must now feel to many residents more like a politburo than a council headquarters, officials were, metaphorically speaking at least, already waiting with their magnifying glasses to spot every offensive comma and full-stop.
Broadly speaking, concerns about planning matters such as the effect traveller sites would have on traffic or parking were deemed to be legitimate.
Everything else was, well, racist. Or potentially racist.
By the time the exercise was over, all but 400 of the 3,500 replies were marked as in some way offensive and would, therefore, be rejected.
In other words, by Mid-Bedfordshire District Council's calculations, 3,100 racists - or, at any rate, 3,100 people holding racist views - were lurking behind the hanging baskets and privet hedges of Stotfold and places such as Pulloxhill and Upper Caldecote.
'Your correspondence contains statements which may reasonably be considered to be of a racist nature' the 'Bedfordshire 3,000' were informed in letters over the past few months.
The letters bear the name Gary Alderson. Mr Alderson is Director of Environmental and Planning Services at Mid-Bedfordshire District Council.
'Reasonable' is about the last word those residents, or any other taxpayers for that matter, would use to describe Mr Alderson and his colleagues.
They have all the qualities you might expect from such bureaucrats apart, perhaps, from the most important quality of all - common sense.
Managing to demonise 3,000 of the law-abiding citizens you are supposed to be representing takes some doing, after all.
But, then, law-abiding citizens come a distant second these days to travellers with a reputation for lawlessness and anti-social behaviour.
Mr Alderson, we discovered, lives in a big mews house at the end of a private drive in Biggleswade alongside a river.
There is no chance, of course, of a gipsy landing on his doorstep.
For Mr Alderson epitomises the pernicious culture of political correctness which pervades town and county halls - and many other walks of life - in the UK.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in relation to gipsies and travellers. There are two themes.
One is that travellers are invariably cast as victims.
The other, that criticisms by residents are almost always viewed as unfounded, exaggerated or based on media distortion.
An amendment to race relations legislation in 2000, which resulted in Irish travellers being legally accepted as an ethnic group like their Romany counterparts, has given council officials almost carte blanche to put their interests before those of just about everyone else.
It is Irish travellers, of course, who have already been blamed for causing so many problems in Bedfordshire and elsewhere in Britain.
This is why the 'fear of crime' featured on so many of those questionnaires, and why a so-called consultation process turned into a politically correct witch-hunt.
The result is that residents from Newcastle to Newquay are now employing solicitors to help them fill in these forms so that their views will not be rejected as 'racist'.
Already, one group in Waltham Abbey, Essex has raised £10,000 to help them fight proposed traveller sites.
The Essex group's chairman Mike Smith told me: 'It's so easy for views to be construed as racist and disregarded by the council, for example if you mention falling property prices and rises in criminality in relation to gipsies.
'Frankly, it's outrageous that we are having to spend so much money on hiring lawyers and planning experts so our voices can be heard.'
Nevertheless, such legal advice will be badly needed because the Government has told local councils they have to find more sites over the next three years to solve an apparent 'housing crisis' in the gipsy community.
Mid-Bedfordshire already has 15 such camps. The authority has to find a further 22 pitches. Typically, a pitch may contain a building, parking space, and one or more caravans.
'Housing crisis' in the gipsy community
It would be difficult to imagine a policy which has caused so much anxiety and anger for local people. Much of that anger, understandably, is directed at the council.
'Racism' aside, you have only to visit the authority's own website to understand the reason.
The council says it is trying to dispel some of the myths about gipsies and travellers. Information is one thing, propaganda another.
Anyone, apart from travellers themselves, could be in little doubt into which category the council's 'research' falls.
Do gipsies and travellers work or pay taxes, asks one rhetorical question? Of course they do - 'VAT is also paid on everything they buy'.
Presumably, the camp at Crays Hill in Essex is the exception that proves the rule, then.
A recent report, commissioned by the local council in Essex, found that people on the site were claiming almost £250,000 a year in dole money.
In other words, they were being funded by the taxpayer by an average of about £7,650 per plot annually.
Nevertheless, many of the Crays Hill fraternity owned expensive cars and vans.
But back to those other 'myths'. Living in a caravan is not just 'a lifestyle choice' for many gipsies, insists Mid-Bedfordshire council, 'but part of their social and cultural heritage'.
No mention of the fact that many of the gipsies at Cottenham in Cambridgeshire also have palatial second homes back in Ireland.
Then there is this gem. 'Media reports and images are often inaccurate and discriminatory. In particular there is no evidence of higher crimes rates among gipsies and travellers.'
No doubt Gary Alderson and his team were unaware of the police raid on a gipsy camp near Market Harborough, Leicestershire, last year during which £1 million cash was found buried underground, stashed in cupboards and stuffed inside cuddly toys. Almost £5,000 was also discovered in a dishwasher.
The fortune came from illegally altering the mileometers on highmileage cars - bought at auction for next to nothing - and selling stolen caravans.
In fact, evidence contradicting the claims by Mid-Bedfordshire District Council - the kind which cannot be dismissed as 'inaccurate and discriminatory' - is to be found much closer to home.
At a site, in fact, run by the council itself in the village of Potton.
In 2002, a couple living 200 yards from the Potton camp took the authority to court after enduring a decade of lawless and anti-social behaviour at the hands of travellers who raced cars, dumped and burned vehicles, set rubbish alight and threatened residents.
The judge ruled that the council had not done enough to tackle the 'nuisance' which had blighted the lives of the couple. They were later awarded up to £30,000.
Little, it seems, has changed. In November, detectives arrested two men at Potton following an armed robbery at a supermarket.
Meanwhile, life-saving equipment stolen from local fire stations was discovered near the camp. The police helicopter now flies over the site day and night.
Is it any surprise that the people of Mid-Bedfordshire felt betrayed by the council long before those letters accusing them of racism started landing on their doormats?
One comment was not sent back to the council on one of its questionnaires, but is worth repeating nonetheless.
'Many of these so-called travellers seem to think it is perfectly OK for them to cause mayhem in area, to go burgling, thieving, breaking into vehicles, causing all kinds of trouble including defecating in the doorways of firms and so on, and getting away with it.'
Guess who was speaking? It was Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary, in 1999 - shortly before the amendment to the race laws.
His comments were aimed at travellers like those at Potton, not Romanies.
So it seems its all right for a Home Secretary to make such observations, but not those people whose lives will be most seriously affected by the new traveller sites.
'It is insulting to be branded a racist,' said Brian Collier, 66, who is also chairman of Stotfold Council.
'I trained as a teacher in London and the first school I worked in was in Chiswick where most of the children were non-white.
'I have worked in schools in which there have been members of ethnic communities almost all my career.
'I have served on the town council for 20 years and I have been in the Liberal Party since I was 23.
'I come from a Lancastrian Methodist background and I am not a racist in any way. I have also lived in Stotfold for 28 years and I can tell you it is not a place that would attract any support for the BNP.
'Our town council simply expressed the concerns of the people it represents. They have a genuine concern about crime.
'They see what has happened at the Potton site and are fearful the same thing could happen here. Local people, the police, the courts, and Mid-Bedfordshire District Council are all well aware of the long history of serious criminality at this site.
'The proposed site in Stotfold backs onto a planned nature reserve and is not far from the local Scout and Guide hut.