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Family hits back in row over traveller site
3:30pm Wednesday 21st August 2013 in News
THE family of travellers at the centre of a storm say they have had to endure torrents of abuse following comments made by a Conservative councillor.
Mark Coxshall’s claims that their site, in Southend Road, Corringham, could become “a cross between my big, fat, gipsy cesspit and Shameless” after plans for it were kicked out by Thurrock Council’s planning committee have infuriated the traveller fraternity.
The Ward family, who moved on to the site – which they own – over Easter weekend before tidying it up, developing it and applying for planning permission, say they have done nothing to warrant the comments.
The family, five adults and six children, claim they have worked with the council since moving on to the land and argue the site has traditional business use and that the ground was always formed of hardcore.
Before they arrived, the family say they found used needles in a shed on the land suggesting it was a venue for drug addicts.
Robert Ward pointed out the site is well presented, with brand new fencing, smart, modern caravans and weatherboarded utility blocks all far from a “cesspit”, he claimed.
In a statement, the family said: “The comments made by Cllr Mark Coxshall are, we believe, discriminatory against the legally recognised and defined ethnic minority of gipsies and travellers.
“I have read up on the TV programme Shameless and it depicts characters involved in theft, benefit fraud, prostitution, abuse and drug dealing. We believe the negative comments by these councillors are unacceptable.
“We are family orientated and find this discriminates against our communities.
“We are not being disrespectful to other members of the community or the local Conservative councillors.”
Another family member told the Gazette: “We just want the best for our children. “They go to school here and we want them to grow up without trouble like this.
“We’ve had people driving past the gates swearing, beeping their horns and shouting at us to leave. If they really knew us, they would have a different opinion. We just want a fair crack of the whip.”
In response, Cllr Coxshall refuted claims of racism and said the travellers had still acted illegally.
He said: “I utterly refute any suggestion that the comments I have made are in any way racist.
“My comments were not about all travellers. I have no problem with travellers who abide by planning law and have no desire to get into a row with the wider traveller community.
“Indeed I have a legal traveller site in my ward, Herd Lane, and I support its occupants. My comments were about the illegal traveller site.
“I certainly do not apologise for taking a hardline approach against illegal sites. As an elected representative I have a duty to make sure the law is respected.
“It is very dangerous to make the leap that comments which may not be politically correct are hate-fuelled. Freedom of speech is an important principle of democracy and a necessity for people elected to represent their communities.
“I stand by my comments as a narrative to what is taking place at that site.”
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