A COUNCIL has been forced to install Portaloos at a Travellers’ camp after a community were effectively barred from using public toilets in a Scots village.

Tensions are said to be running high in Edzell between the settled community in the rural Angus village and Travellers who set up camp there in May.

The Edzell Village Improvement Society (Evis) own public toilets near the camp – but said they were recently forced to “significantly restrict” opening times because of concerns about mess.

Davie Donaldson, a Travellers’ rights activist who said he has spoken both with people living in the camp and the village itself, said there was a “racial element” to the group’s decision to shut the toilets.

'A deliberate act of discrimination' 

The facilities were handed to Evis by Angus council in 2018 and were previously open from 7am until 7pm everyday, Donaldson said, adding that members of the group had told him it was the arrival of the Travellers that led to their near-total closure.

Local councillor Jill Scott, an independent, said constituents had raised concerns with her that the closure of the toilets was a "deliberate act of discrimination” by Evis.

When approached by the Sunday National, the group would not be drawn on accusations of discrimination – saying only that the toilets had been closed because of a “marked increase in use, misuse and mess” in recent weeks.

Donaldson claimed the decision was motivated by “prejudice”.

He said: “There’s clearly a racial element which obviously forms breaches of the Equality Act and human rights and hate and everything else.

“There’s a lot of people with disabilities on the camp and older people with quite severe health conditions so for them it’s causing a lot of distress that they’ve not got a toilet they can use.

“This situation is a microcosm of the experience of all Gypsy Travellers encampments across Scotland.

“We could have had a great situation where Travellers could use the toilets, everyone’s happy, the camp’s clean, folk move on, that’s that.

“But because prejudice came in, discrimination came in, we’ve now got a situation that’s quite heated, there’s a lot of tension in the local area and massive divisions between the Gypsy Traveller community and the settled community.”

Scott, who represents Brechin and Edzell, said comments made about Travellers at a recent community council meeting had confirmed to her that the group who set up camp at the northern edge of the village was being subjected to prejudice.

She said: “Greater work needs to be done to protect marginalised groups from outdated attitudes. 

“This was apparent to me from opinions expressed at a recent Inveresk Community Council meeting. 

“I made clear that in my view these comments were unacceptable, could have been deemed as hate speech and were discriminatory towards the travelling community.

“I have received several complaints from constituents alleging that the closure of the toilets on Edzell Muir is a deliberate act of discrimination,

“At my request, Angus Council is investigating. Discrimination of any kind has no place in civilised society.”

'Increase in misuse and mess'  

In a statement, Evis said: “The public toilets at Edzell Muir are cleaned and run by local volunteers so that they can be available for all to use.

“In recent weeks, a marked increase in use, misuse and mess has made the volunteers’ efforts more difficult, leaving no option but to significantly restrict opening hours so that the toilets can be kept clean.

“This decision was taken reluctantly, but was based purely on our ability to keep the toilets clean and safe for everyone’s use.”

The group did not respond to follow-up questions on whether Travellers’ use of the facilities had played a role in the decision to close the toilets.

Travellers do not use toilets in their caravans because of concerns about personal hygiene – a principle known as “mochadi”.

A spokesperson for Angus council said: “From the arrival of the first vehicles at Edzell Muir on May 22, Angus council has engaged with individuals and continued a regular assessment of need at the unauthorised encampment.

“This approach continues, in line with policies and procedures, after local volunteers advised that they were unable to meet their prior cleaning commitments due to increased demand and mess at the park’s permanent public toilets.

“Angus council has installed portable toilets meantime, and officers are engaging with all those concerned, on and off-site, along with partner agencies to find a satisfactory solution.”

Eviction threat 

Those living on the camp are also facing the possibility of legal action to forcibly remove them from the area.

A letter from Angus council to Donaldson seen by this paper sets out the local authority’s position on removing residents.

It read: “I can confirm that a site visit was undertaken by Angus Council on July 25 to engage with the group and at that time the residents were advised verbally of the intention of Angus council to move to legal action.

“The Notice to Quit was then served on July 27. This gives the residents of the site until Saturday, July 29 to vacate the land.

“This complies with our policy and procedure for the management of unauthorised encampments in Angus and was agreed with our legal services.

“It is worth noting that the encampment has been on site since May 22, albeit fluctuating in size and having varied residents during that time.

“The encampment enjoyed good relations with the local community and engendered very few complaints for its first month of occupancy.

“However, at that time, the encampment was much smaller and confined to the very north of The Muir, minimising its impact on the surrounding community.”

Donaldson has challenged the council’s eviction notice and it is understood that the camp remained on the site at the time of writing.

It comes after Welsh Secretary David TC Davies was reported to the police after sending leaflets to voters raising concerns about a Traveller site in his constituency.

The leaflet, entitled “Gypsy and Traveller site coming to your area soon!", also asked residents: “Would you like to see a Traveller site next to your house?"

The Travelling Ahead Advocacy and Advice Service, an organisation supporting travelling communities in Wales reported the leaflet to the Conservative Party, the Equality Commission and the police and described the campaign literature as “hostile”.