A NEW report has criticised council and police treatment of travellers in York, who it claims have been left feeling “marginalised and excluded” from society.

The report, published following a major research project on behalf of the York Travellers Trust, claims the city’s “oldest ethnic minority” is suffering as a result of poorer housing, educational opportunities and health services.

It claims that residents on York’s three traveller sites suffer from frequent flooding, overcrowding, and lack of play space and privacy, and calls for major improvements including better drainage, play areas and increased privacy.

The report, by three academics – Gary Craig, a visiting professor at the University of Durham, Marie Neale and Mick Wilkinson – also claims there has been a breakdown of trust between travellers and the police, which it says means that safety and security on sites could be compromised.

It focuses on a particular police raid on the travellers’ site at Osbaldwick in September 2004, involving “150 armed police with two helicopters”.

The report, funded by the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation, claims this was a “defining moment in the history of traveller-community relations over the past few years”, and was wrong on many counts.

“Families, including women and children, were rudely awoken in the early hours of the morning while armed police searched their homes with dogs,” it says.

“This would be a terrifying experience for anyone, more so still for travellers who, after years of battles over unauthorised encampments, already held a deep distrust of and suspicion for the police.

“Such activities imply an approach of collective punishment and presumed guilt by association. This can only serve to entrench feelings of discrimination and persecution.”

The report also criticises the use of police dogs in searches, claiming this “showed a complete disregard for gypsy traveller culture, whereby most animals, especially dogs, are considered unclean and therefore kept outside of the living space”.

Referring to the Clifton travellers’ site, the report quotes one resident as reporting that police were visiting the site in unmarked cars and talking to the children. “This created anger and frustration and the children had been encouraged to throw stones at strangers who tried to talk to them.”

It suggests North Yorkshire Police should review its Race Equality policies to ensure that the needs of travellers are clearly established and acted on, and recommends there should also be “cultural awareness training” for officers.

• About 160 police officers with sniffer dogs raided a travellers’ site at Clifton Moor last month in one of the city’s biggest ever drugs busts. Ten people were arrested and cannabis plants seized. A teenager was later charged with cultivating cannabis plants, while two men and a woman were cautioned, and a man and three women were bailed pending further inquiries.