4:04pm Friday 31st May 2013
By Andy Walker
Hundreds of members of the travelling community descended on Darlington for a four-day gathering last week. Apart from one morning of commuter chaos, the event passed off largely peacefully. Despite this, a string of negative comments have been left on stories on The Northern Echo website. Andy Walker reports
IS there a more widespread anti-Gypsy feeling in Darlington than other places – and if so, why?
Last week’s large-scale gathering, near the A66 Darlington bypass, led to a flurry of activity in the comments section of The Northern Echo’s website.
One story, about the event not costing taxpayers extra, attracted more than 50 responses.
Incendiary words like ‘lawless’ and ‘thieving’ were bandied around, among others.
Last year, a public outcry followed Darlington Borough Council’s suggestion of creating up to seven new traveller sites around the town, in response to Government-imposed quotas.
The council, which has been asked to provide 35 new Gypsy pitches by 2015, has been accused of ‘dithering’ over plans to expand existing sites in Neasham Road and Honeypot Lane.
Travelling community leader Billy Welch said he accepted long ago that a minority of people simply do not like Gypsies.
He said: “It does not matter how smoothly a Gypsy or traveller event runs, you still get people complaining, no matter what.
“It is something we are used to and it says more about certain people’s own intelligence, they do not think anyone is entitled to exist, except themselves.
“These people have no respect for different cultures or traditions.
“Whatever happens, some people are just bigoted and you cannot change their minds.
“Usually, the people who are complaining know absolutely nothing about the travelling community and if they went into an event, mixed with people, they would see it in a different light.”
The most controversial element of last week’s gathering was the combination of mud being left on the road by vehicles entering and exiting the site in wet weather, which caused the A66 to be closed for several hours.
But police said they were pleased the gathering had been well-behaved, while the Highways Agency said the cost of cleaning the road would be picked up by an existing service contract.
Mr Welch added: “Don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect, not by a long shot, but sometimes we come in for stick undeservedly.
“If one person does something wrong, that person should absolutely be named and shamed, but it is often put down to ‘the gypsies’.”
Appleby Horse Fair, one of the country’s largest Gypsy gatherings, runs from June 6 to 12.
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