Farmer branded racist for telling the truth about travellers

June 05, 2009

Having lived next to a community of travellers for 30 years, Bryan Lee thought he had valuable insight into plans to give them a permanent home.

But when he objected to transforming a field into a new settlement, his input was ignored - and he was even branded a racist. Mr Lee, 65, was warned he could face legal action from the police and equality watchdogs if he dared to continue with his 'racist representations.'

Yesterday, the retired dairy farmer spoke of his outrage at being labelled a bigot by officials at Mid Devon District Council.

Their response came after he wrote in March to disagree with plans to turn a field half a mile from his home in Silverton, Devon, into two pitches for travellers.

The father of two outlined the problems he had faced with another travellers' site and said the application was 'inappropriate for the area'.

He wrote: 'The number of families at any one time on the permanent site was an ongoing problem for the local authority, as was the nature of business carried out on the site.

'This included vehicle wrecking and various small-scale livestock ventures.'

He continued: 'Horses were turned into my fields regularly. The police were regular visitors, usually to trace stolen property but also to break up fights with traveller families from other sites.'

When staff eventually responded, Mid Devon District Council said it would take 'no account' of his letter and warned he may be investigated under race laws.

Officials wrote: 'It is policy on planning and building proposals to take no account of representations of a racist nature.

'If the council receives any more racist representations from you, this matter will be referred to the Commission for Racial Equality or the police.'

Yesterday Mr Lee, who lived next to a camp in Broadclyst, Devon, before moving to Silverton, said: 'This extreme reaction would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic and damaging to my character. It is absolutely outrageous. I am not a racist.'

He insisted his letter over the proposal was 'a factual report of my own first-hand experience.'

He continued: 'I spent 30 years living next to a travellers' site and it was hell.

' I had lots of my farming equipment stolen. If my property wasn't bolted down, it would disappear overnight.

'The place was a complete tip with rubbish everywhere. I also witnessed some very aggressive and unpleasant behaviour. I wasn't suggesting all travellers acted in this way - of course they don't.

'I was simply pointing out what happened in my personal experience. I was within my rights to oppose the application, especially after what I've been through, without being accused of racism by some jumped-up official.'

He added that the council withdrew the plan after being flooded with 50 complaints from residents.

A spokesman for Mid Devon District Council said: 'I appreciate that planning applications for gipsy and traveller sites can be quite sensitive.'

She added that the authority had a 'clear policy' meaning that officials would not take into account comments 'where they could reasonably be considered to be racist.'

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.