Gypsy and Traveller Experiences of Crime and Justice Since the 1960s

A Mixed Methods Study

Funding: ESRC £1m
LSE Principal Investigator: Professor Coretta Phillips
Co-Principal Investigators: Dr Becky Taylor (UEA, History) and Dr Zoë James (University of Plymouth, Criminology)
Duration: January 2020-December 2023

The research team is committed to an ethical approach that will entail working with partner Gypsy and Traveller third sector organisations and will include the local recruitment of Gypsy and Traveller researchers and contract interviewers to conduct elements ot the research, contributing capacity-building research skills and employment in four sites in England. The research will produce robust data to inform future policy and practice concerned with questions of equality, service provision, crime prevention, and reduce the harms of crime for all affected.

Further knowledge exchange and impact activities will include- with support from Travellers Times, the national voice and media platform of Gypsies, Travellers, and Roma- a videographic film summarising the findings using filmed interviews, podcasts also available for National Prison Radio, and a touring multimedia community exhibition. 

The research team will also work with Romani, (Pavee) Traveller, and New Traveller creatives to produce outputs ranging across fiction, performance poetry, drama, art and photography, to inflect the research findings with individuality, complexity, humour and emotion, allowing empathic reactions to Gypsies and Travellers' experiences of crime and justice.


As explained by Professor Coretta Phillips:

Historical accounts show that since their arrival in England and Scotland Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers have been associated with criminal offending. They have become entrenched in popular, media and political imaginations as criminal predators, bringing property crime, violence, fraud, tax evasion and anti-social behaviour to settled communities. Yet despite at least five centuries' of such categorisation, there is surprisingly no rigorous evidence assessing the validity of such claims nor systematic assessments of Gypsies and Travellers' experiences of victimisation. No existing sources of evidence from self-report offending surveys, archival accounts, oral histories, ethnographic or qualitative research can provide an estimate of Gypsies and Travellers’ patterns of offending. Neither can they tell us about how frequently Gypsies and Travellers are the victims of non-racially motivated crime (e.g. assault, burglary, theft) or hate crimes.

The aim of this multi-disciplinary, mixed methods study then is to provide the first systematic, comprehensive and historically grounded account of the crime and criminal justice experiences of Gypsies and Travellers in in two urban and two rural areas of England since the 1960s. Offering a quantitative, qualitative and historical response to popular representations that position Gypsies and Travellers as one-dimensional criminal parasites, the key objectives in producing this account will be to understand, since the 1960s:

1)    Gypsies' and Travellers' direct and vicarious perceptions and experiences of criminal victimisation, hate crimes, and offending over their lifetimes;

2)    whether subjective perceptions of racism and discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers play a part in offending behaviour and experiences of criminal justice processing;

3)    the impact of the pains of criminalization, policing, punishment and imprisonment on Gypsy and Traveller individuals and communities; and

4)    the rationales used by key professionals who have engaged with Gypsies and Travellers operationally and strategically in relation to crime, criminal justice, and social policy.

The quantitative and qualitative methods to be employed to address these research questions will be : (i) a crime victimisation and self-report offending survey (ii) the creation of the largest single body of British Gypsy and Traveller oral histories of community members and serving prisoners (iii) archival analysis of  material in public record offices and specialist collections (including council committee meeting minutes, county surveys, and local petitions against official sites); and (iv) interviews with local professionals who have engaged with Gypsies and Travellers in a variety of contexts, both operationally and strategically (e.g. police officers, Victim Support, housing officers, councillors, Police and Crime Commissioners, etc.). The study will give voice and expression to Gypsies' and Travellers' experiences as victims as well as offenders, including their treatment by agencies of the criminal justice system and local authorities.