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Complainant Name:
Dr Aidan Byrne

Clauses Noted: 1, 12

Publication: Express & Star (Wolverhampton)


Dr Aidan Byrne from the University of Wolverhampton complained to the Press Complaints Commission about an article which reported that security concerns had been raised after a group of Travellers had established a camp in Wolverhampton city centre. The piece reported that the group had ‘plagued Wolverhampton for six months'. The complainant said this expression was inappropriate in a news report and demonstrated a failure by the newspaper to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact as required by Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. He was also concerned that article failed to give a balanced view of the situation and was discriminatory.

The PCC also received a complaint on similar lines from Matthew Brindley of the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain.


The matter was resolved when the PCC negotiated publication of a letter from the complainant, in which he took issue with the newspaper's reporting. The letter read as follows:

Your recent front page article, ‘Security stepped up as travellers move in' (18 Sept) incorporated the following sentence:

"Security has been stepped up after travellers who have plagued Wolverhampton for six months set up camp alongside three city centre car showrooms."

I strongly object to the use of the word 'plagued' as inappropriate in a factual story for its negative and medicalised connotations: plagues are diseases to be eradicated rather than people with rights and responsibilities.

Furthermore, your undifferentiated reference to this 'plague' of Travellers implies that all Travellers are responsible for the behaviour of some individuals: I feel that this indiscriminate approach encourages your readers to view Travellers as uniformly criminal and unwelcome.

Tensions between mobile and static communities are by no means novel, but your reportage fails, in my view to reproduce the complexity of relations between these communities. Some acknowledgement of our social failure to accommodate or respect Travellers (and most local authorities' failure to fulfil their legal requirement to provide legal stopping sites) would do much to defuse the bitterness felt by both sides.

Doubtless some Travellers, like some settled people, break the law for frivolous reasons or because they feel they have no other option. Ascribing criminality or antisocial tendencies to people simply because they are Travellers is inflammatory and unacceptable and would not be acceptable in reference to other distinct social or ethnic groups.

I look forward to the Express and Star approaching the subject with a little more balance and accuracy in future.

Date Published: 02/12/2010

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