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Irish Traveller from Kent joins Glastonbury Festival line-up to protest against new Policing Act

An Irish Traveller is gearing up to protest at Glastonbury Festival against a new anti-trespass law he believes will “criminalise the Traveller way of life”.

Kent-based Martin Ward will speak on several stages at the five-day festival in Somerset to rally against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

Martin Ward talks about what he plans to highlight at Glastonbury

Various Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities have expressed fears over the impact of the new legislation on nomadic traditions.

Under the Act, thousands of people from Traveller communities living in Kent could face eviction for stopping overnight on roadsides and unauthorised land if they are deemed to have caused “significant harm, disruption or distress”.

The new offence will carry a maximum penalty of three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500 and will come into force on June 28.

Human rights groups such as Liberty believe new stop and search powers could lead to the over-policing of minorities and “criminalise the entire way of life” for nomadic communities.

Martin Ward, left, is set to speak on several stages at Glastonbury festival over the impact of the new Policing Act on Travellers. Photo: Martin Ward
Martin Ward, left, is set to speak on several stages at Glastonbury festival over the impact of the new Policing Act on Travellers. Photo: Martin Ward
One of the structures charting the history of Travellers in Britain. Photo: Martin Ward
One of the structures charting the history of Travellers in Britain. Photo: Martin Ward

But the Home Office denies the new legislation, which is being brought in to tackle community concerns about unauthorised encampments, will operate in this way and says it will respect the vast majority of Gypsies who it describes as law-abiding.

However, Martin Ward, from Northfleet, who will be joined by others from the GRT community at the Worthy Farm protest disagrees.

Speaking from the festival, the 30-year-old said: “I’m taking part in Glastonbury to raise awareness against this new Policing Bill that is coming out this month against Gypsies and Travellers.

“It will put laws against Gypsies and Travellers basically to stop us from being who we are and who we have been for hundreds of thousands of years. Our ancestors fighted for this country in the war.”

The campaigner added: “People need to understand it takes all types of people to make the world go round.

“There is a place for us on this Earth us the same way there is for everybody else.”

“Obviously when this law comes into place people need to understand it is going to effect every single Gypsy and Traveller across this nation.

Despite government claims the new law will only target “unauthorised camps” Mr Ward holds serious reservations over its operation.

The ex-reality TV cast member fears its effect will go beyond unauthorised camps and could see Travellers constantly moved on, to the detriment of their health and the education of their children.

“It really is not fair,” Mr Ward said. “There is a place for us on this Earth the same way there is for everybody else.

“It’s about bringing communities together not splitting them up. This law is splitting the nation up. It is dividing and taking territories and communities away.

Martin with his uncle Paddy Doherty, an Irish Traveller and former bare-knuckle boxer
Martin with his uncle Paddy Doherty, an Irish Traveller and former bare-knuckle boxer

“I thought this was a free country where people could be free to be who they wanted to be. People could embrace who they wanted to be.

He added: “I just think people should look at it in a bigger picture ad have more of an open mind towards Gypsies and Travellers and understand there is good and bad in every single walk of life.”

Last July, there was space for only one caravan at local authority and privately-owned sites in Swale, according to the government’s latest traveller caravan count.

The latest data shows there were 3,545 traveller caravans in the county then – up from 1,899 in July 2019, when the last summer count took place. Of those counted, 341 were on unauthorised pitches.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The majority of Travellers are law-abiding and we respect their right to follow a nomadic way of life.

“No one should have unchecked rights to trespass on other people’s land without their permission and cause harm and boundless misery to local communities without consequence.

“As is the theme with many of the measures in this Act, this new offence for unauthorised encampments is about giving the police the right powers and flexibility to protect the law-abiding majority from disruption and harm.”

Mr Ward is related to Celebrity Big Brother winner Paddy Doherty and 2005 X Factor champion Shayne Ward.

He is also an ex-cast member of reality series The Only Way Essex and is now working on a documentary with Firecracker Films about his experiences as a gay Irish Traveller.

Earlier this year he protested outside one of Jimmy Carr’s shows following the comedian’s controversial comments about the Holocaust in his Netflix special, His Dark Material.

The 8 Out of 10 Cats host was criticised for saying “nobody talks about the positives” in reference to “the thousands of Gypsies that were killed by the Nazis”.

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