10:30, September 22 113 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-22 10:30:04
Modern slavery trial judge investigated over Traveller comments

A crown court judge is being investigated over comments he made about the Traveller community when sentencing 11 members of the same family for modern slavery offences.

The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has confirmed that it is looking into a complaint from a Traveller organisation about remarks made by Timothy Spencer QC.

Addressing members of the Rooney family from Lincolnshire as he sentenced them earlier this month, Spencer said: “You claimed that what went on at Drinsey [in Linconshire] was no different from what was going on at any Travellers’ camp around this country, that all Travellers had workers operating under similar conditions.

“Sadly, I very much fear that you may be correct about that. But that does not make any of it right.”

The judge’s apparent acknowledgment that such exploitation is commonplace in the Traveller community upset the National Alliance of Gypsy Traveller & Roma Women, which lodged a formal complaint with the JCIO.

In a letter to the judicial organisation, Shay Clipson, chair of the organisation wrote: “This is a very damaging statement and the judge has made it with no proof at all that this practise is carried on at any other Travellers site.

“It was the task of Judge Spencer to deliver sentence on those individuals who had been convicted of offences, and not to speculate in regard to what others of the same ethnicity might do.

“We find this statement by Judge Spencer to not only be discriminatory against Gypsies and Travellers, but to also have very tangible potential to expose Gypsies and Travellers to hostility due to his discriminatory statement. This could impact on the ability of families to earn a living, find somewhere to live or for children to enjoy education without fear from bullying.”

A spokesman for the JCIO said: “I can confirm the JCIO is investigating HHJ Spencer in connection with a case which concluded at Nottingham crown court on 12 September.”

The high-profile case ended earlier this month when the 11 were jailed for up to 15 years for exploiting at least 18 victims for up to 26 years.

Many of the victims were homeless and some had learning disabilities. They were kept in caravans without running water or toilet facilities and made to work for the family’s resurfacing business.

Their captors wore Rolex watches, drove expensive cars and lived in homes that were “palatial in comparison” with their workers’ conditions, Spencer noted.