Grieving Pavee Travellers at Ramsgate Port served eviction notice days after death of newborn

The temporary site at the Port

This article has been updated (on October 8) with comment from Thanet council chief executive Madeline Homer

A Section 77 eviction notice issued to Pavee Traveller members based at Ramsgate Port was served by Thanet council just days after the death of a two day old baby amongst the group, says the Gypsy and Traveller Coalition.

Thanet council served the notice on some of the families at the section of port which has been in use as an agreed stopping point since the end of May.

The eviction hearing at Margate Magistrates’ Court on October 1 was taken due to a ‘new group’ moving onto the site without authorisation and displaying ‘antisocial behaviour,’ says Thanet council. The Gypsy and Traveller Coalition dispute this.

The case has been deferred until October 21.

A Gypsy and Traveller Coalition member said: “The baby died and a couple of days later, with the whole camp in mourning, Thanet council served eviction notices against half of the camp.

“This family in mourning is part of the group that are being threatened with eviction. The baby was two days old and mum had been taken to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The council were aware of this, it is dreadful the way they have behaved.”

Thanet District Council originally attended Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, May 27 seeking an order for removal of the group from Palm Bay. This was unsuccessful on welfare grounds and the council was required to identify an alternative site in order to comply with the court. Ramsgate Port was identified as being able to provide facilities whilst being outside of a residential area.

The court decision was made due to poor health of some members of the group, including a baby and a child.

In June the mother of a baby girl who has been very poorly after the discovery of a lump in her neck urged Thanet council to provide more facilities at the site as she was unable to care for her little one properly without electricity to keep medicines cool. This baby is still under the care of Great Ormand Street Hospital.

The coalition representative also said there were basic needs that still needed addressing for the whole site and the 17 children and 40 adults based there. He asked Thanet council for additional standpipes, more toilets (separate male and female due to  cultural etiquette) showers, more bins and also a move further back on the site due to people throwing rocks, fireworks and a metal bolt from the cliff top into the site.

He also requested better screening and a site barrier.

The requests were backed by Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine, district councillors Becky Wing, Tricia Austin, Mike Garner and Raushan Ara and Ramsgate Town Council’s Anne-Marie Nixey as well as Father McNally who looks after the community (pictured above).

Thanet council said facilities have been provided with two metre high screening to the site; three toilets (male, female and a disabled facility); a large bin and water supply. CCTV is also in place at the Port and on the clifftop which overlooks the site.

In August the electricity at the site was disconnected with Thanet council saying this was due to an illegal connection to a defunct socket. A spokesperson said there was an electricity supply for those with welfare needs.

They added: “As a negotiated stopping site, the council has no obligation to provide electricity or showers. We have agreed these however for those with specific needs, in order that they are provided with the support that they require. Provision of further electricity will not be provided and this has been explained to the group.”

Speaking of the eviction action a council spokesperson said: ”A court hearing was scheduled for Friday 1 October to seek an Order of Removal for some members of the encampment currently at the temporary site at the Port of Ramsgate.

“This action is being taken as a new group accessed the land without council authorisation. Council staff have also witnessed ongoing anti-social behaviour at the site.

“The hearing does not affect anyone who was originally placed at the site for welfare reasons.”

Photo ‘concerned local’

But the Gypsy and Traveller Coalition has hit back saying the council is ‘fully aware’ that the group is in mourning.

A statement issued by the Coalition says: “The council executive and their officers are fully aware the people they are attempting to evict are part and parcel of this same family group. Indeed, one of the persons facing eviction has been liaising with the council officers for the last 8 years and has attended many previous court hearing as a member of the family facing removal notices. It is totally disingenuous for the council to state this is a “new group”

“The council executive (via their officers) vague allegation of “antisocial behaviour” is refuted by site residents and the councillors and community representatives who visit the site every week for an update meeting. There has been no evidence provided by the council to any parties supporting these vulnerable people of any evidence of “antisocial behaviour”

“The Gypsy and Traveller Coalition would state this is just more racial stereotyping by council officers which the G&TC will take legal advice on The magistrate dealing with the previous Section 77 removal refused to allow the application by the council to remove people from the site at Palm Bay for the very same reasons that will be presented to the court at the next court hearing. These are a) no place for these people to go and b) life-threatening illnesses to adults, children, and children to be born in the next few months amongst the group, which is all evidenced by medical documentation.

“The serving of eviction documents by council officers on grieving family members days after the death of a baby is unforgivable and a further indication of how this council executive and its officers view the ethnic minority Travellers.  We believe the executive and its officers would not behave in this way to any other ethnic minority group based in Thanet and rightly so.

“Moving this family group from one spot to another every 3 -4 weeks solves nothing and incurs court costs every time the council take this action, an action they have been taking for the last 8 years.

“The magistrates at the last removal court appearance broke that cycle, the council executive seem to want to restart the cycle. Some feel this is not so much about the Travellers on the site but the Port itself and all that’s been going on with it for some time.”

Karen Constantine

Cllr Constantine, who has been working with the families to try and get better facilities at the Port site, said she was “incandescent with anger” at the timing of the eviction notice.

The county councillor says there is also legal action due to be taken against Thanet council for alleged breaches of basic human rights and UK equality laws.

She said: “Yet again I am appalled  by the actions of TDC chief executive Madeline Homer. I have written to her many times to request her attendance at the Travellers site on Ramsgate Port and her improved attention to what has been an exceptional set of circumstances.

“She has steadfastly refused to visit the site to meet with the travellers where she could have had the best opportunity to fulfil both her legal and statutory obligations and to better understand the situation that the travellers are dealing with, particularly the significant health issues, which are the reason that Magistrates gave an order to TDC for the creation of this site.

“I wrote to Ms Homer to let her (and others) know, that the newborn baby had died. I don’t mind admitting that I cried when I was informed. It is a most awful tragedy to happen in any family. In this Traveller group that pain is felt and shared across the whole extended family. I was incandescent with anger when one working day later eviction notices were served, causing such anguish.

“It’s worth noting that Thanet council employed a London barrister to represent the authority and the case has had to be suspended because of a lack of preparedness by TDC staff and our concerns about the process. I’ve submitted an FOI to ascertain the codes and whether or not this is ‘standard’ practice.

“I had already notified the Chief Executive in writing that legal action is pending, as we believe that basic human rights and UK equality laws have been breached. This decision to progress eviction may well render TDC liable for avoidable costs and should have been considered by the Leader Ash Ashbee and by other councillors. It was not.

“The families have settled well in the Port despite the multiple difficulties and the fact that it is a very basic and inhospitable site. Being allowed to be settled on the Port has allowed many Travellers to start the process of getting their health needs assessed. The health and well-being of many on the site is extremely poor, the poorest I have ever seen within a group.

“I have called on KCC Cllrs, Paul Bartlett chair of HOSC and Clair Bell chair of Kent public health, to convene a meeting to look at the health of Travellers across Kent and to improve the clinical pathways. I am still waiting for a firm date.

“What we need is a proper negotiated site, a transit site, and tolerance and compassion on all sites. We could also do with a chief executive who is, at the very least, prepared to meet with marginalised residents.”

Thanet District Council chief executive Madeline Homer, said: “First of all, I would like to express my sincere condolences following the tragic death of the newborn baby within the Traveller community.

“We are rightly continuing to support this family in their bereavement and confirm that they are not the subject of the request for an Order of Removal.

“The council is ensuring the continued provision of adequate facilities for the two authorised families. This includes multiple toilets, shower facilities as well as a number of rubbish bins.

“The council is however pursuing eviction proceedings against a separate traveller group who were not part of the original group from Palm Bay. This group forced entry onto the site and have been witnessed carrying out criminal acts.

“Our officers have carried out welfare checks with the unauthorised group and found no evidence of acute medical needs.  We understand this second group of travellers have moved from a site in Thanet that they own, so we are under no obligation to provide them with facilities.

“As of today  (October 8), we haven’t been formally notified of any legal action, though similar threats have been made over the last three months. We will of course take the necessary actions if and when such legal notices are received.

“I am supported by a team of highly skilled officers who I trust to work directly with our vulnerable residents. The council’s Director of Neighbourhoods has been on site which is wholly appropriate to her position.”

Authorised sites

There are 17 authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites in Kent – 11 district council ones and six run by the county council – but all are full with long waiting lists.

In December 2019 approval was given for work to assess Potten Street in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Tivoli Brook in Margate and Ramsgate Port for use as temporary tolerated stopping sites in Thanet.

Both Ramsgate Port and Tivoli Brook were removed from the plans in July 2020. The proposal for Ramsgate Port was scrapped because it was “undergoing a feasibility study and the proposed area is in use for the storage of cars and is returning a revenue, it is also an industrialised area and not suited to families and young children.”

Thanet does not yet have an authorised site for Gypsy and Traveller use.

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