Anorak News | PR Andrew Harper: monstering Travellers

PR Andrew Harper: monstering Travellers

by | 30th, July 2020

Are you “afraid to challenge Traveller culture”? And if you are, what are you afraid of? Writing in the Times, Clare Foges looks at PC Andrew Harper’s killers.

Newly married Andrew Harper was killed by three youths. The facts are: he’d prevented the theft of a quad bike; his feet became entangled in a rope attached to the getaway car; the thieves dragged him behind them for over a mile. Mr Harper, 28, died from catastrophic injuries. Henry Long, 19, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers admitted conspiracy to steal the bike. At the Old Bailey all three were acquitted of murder. All three were found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Foges has seen the picture of Albert Bowers sticking his tongue out at photographers after appearing at Reading Magistrates’ Court last September, and another of Bowers and Jessie Cole smiling as they left the same hearing. To the adult and sane it was a revolting spectacle.

She says they were “revelling in the attention”. Who were they showing off to? When media calls, media gets its picture. Did the presence of cameras change the mood? And will the media know frame a horrible crime in its terms, and with it take some ownership of the killers and Mr Harper? “When the verdict of manslaughter was handed down the public gallery, packed with their supporters, erupted in cheers,” says Foges. Whether justice has been done is not moot. The jury deliberated for almost two days.

Nasty people have been tried and convicted of a terrible crime. Mr Harper’s family are bereft. Their dignity is commendable. To cost another innocent human being their life is a dreadful, soul-splitting thing. We want the guilty to show remorse and regret. Maybe god will sort them out. Maybe they will realise what they did that night in August 2019 and weep. But nothing will wind the clock back. Nothing will save Andrew Harper. But Foges wants more:

Several reports on this case were careful to brush over certain details. They mentioned that Thames Valley police had raided the Four Houses Caravan Park – but not that the caravan park was a Traveller site, or that these three young men were from the Traveller community. Some may ask if this is relevant. Others may feel that to bring up the men’s background betrays an ugly old prejudice.

If you think their heritage is irrelevant, Foges says you’re wrong. If you suspect her of B, you are again wrong.

It is important to state that it is not communities that commit crimes but individuals. Those convicted are squarely Henry Long, Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole, not thousands of innocent people who share their heritage. Tarring all Travellers with the brush of these men’s callousness is as unfair as tarring all Catholics for paedophile priests or all Muslims for terrorist attacks.


‘Yet…” But what? She says theft is the Long family’s “trade”. Bowers left school at 11. “Their education was in petty crime.” The backstory is directing our thinking. Are the families of the guilty men also on trial? Is their culture in the dock?

The media has the power to transform the rare and local into a national issue. An innocent man is killed by criminals. But now it’s about all of us. Do we really suppose we could be next? Are we living in “fear” of Travellers? How much of the problem is real and now much is perceived?

Such problems do not solely beset Travellers but they are far more prevalent among Traveller communities.

Are they? We were talking about manslaughter. Is that a crime that can be especially linked to Traveller culture? Of course not. But before you can find any facts, Foges tells us that in the pursuit of equality and fairness “we have to end the squeamishness that prevents open talk about Travellers.”

This squeamishness is down to two fears, says Foges – and you might have missed the squirming when you hear the playground taunts ‘pikey’ and ‘gypo’, often issued from adult mouths. The “fears” are:

First, the fear of retribution…The second fear is that of being labelled racist… The fears hush most into silence, and the silence means the stand-off between Travellers and the rest of society continues uneasily.

We must talk about Travellers and crime in the same breath to save society and to save them.

Many feel disquieted to see the mobile homes rolling on to a local beauty spot, a portent too often of littering, mess, anti-social behaviour. Meanwhile those in Traveller communities are hardly “living their best lives”. Travellers die about ten years earlier than the rest of us. They have higher rates of chronic illness. Their suicide rates are six times higher…

You might argue that they choose to live like this, but the babies born into that life don’t.

From the brutal killing of an innocent man we are now talking about littering and spoiling the view. Every offence committed whilst being a Traveller is grouped. Every failure is part of a larger problem for decent society. And when you dig down in search of a solution, the righteous hit f8 on the keyboard and cry: we must do something to save the children. We hear it with calls to end circumcision, because the decent know that ending the Jewish covenant with god is the right thing to do. We hear it whenever the ‘control culture’ spots deviant behaviour. We must burst through the “culturally sensitive force-field” that “exists around Travellers” and save children “abandoned to a fate that should not be tolerated in 21st-century Britain”, says Foges.

Can we see figures for peadophilia among Travellers? Are the children of Travellers “abandoned”? Are their families less close knit, loyal and loving than for other cultures, tribes and religions? And then Foges outlines her plan to save these others: Travellers should stop travelling.

We need a new contract with Travellers. Instead of transience and lives lived in the shadows we must do more to encourage permanence and lives lived in contact with wider society – especially the education system. To achieve this the state must offer carrot as well as stick, not just extra police powers to move camps on but somewhere to go to. Local authorities should be obliged by law to find space for authorised sites. In return for pitches with proper sanitation and energy facilities, each site must have better contact points with the local authorities, particularly schools.

If Travellers are not allowed to travel, what are they? Haven’t they been settled out of existence?

Posted: 30th, July 2020 | In: News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink