Vera vows to be gypsies' voice
STOW Horse Fair champion Vera Norwood feels gypsies need "someone to fight for them".
So the staunch supporter of the contentious twice-yearly gypsy gathering has put her money where her mouth is.
The octogenarian has become the first non-gypsy president of the national Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights, which started in 1970.
The outspoken former Stow mayor and ex-shopkeeper, who visited behind the barricades at Essex gypsy camp Dale Farm before the evictions, isn't afraid of courting controversy.
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In her new role, she is set to speak about racial prejudice at a Crown Prosecution Service meeting to discuss race hate guidelines in Birmingham on November 23.
"I will speak from experience and say travellers have got to get more sites," she said. "I'm a Conservative but it's their fault.
"Minister Peter Lilley changed the rules to say county councils didn't have to provide transit or residential sites, gypsies should be like everyone else and buy their own land.
"But when they do, they seldom get permission to build on it.
"Police were also given powers to move on gypsies with more than six vehicles, but most tight-knit, working families have more, so that's why they go into car parks."
The political activist, who was "honoured and amazed" to be asked to lead the Gypsy Council, has previously tackled the prime minister on the issue of travellers' sites.
"I had a go at David Cameron at a Conservative garden party at Chipping Norton and also at a dinner. He said there wasn't much he could do about Dale Farm as it was Basildon Borough Council's decision, so I also wrote to them.
"If they had not wanted travellers there, they should have done something right at the beginning. A lot of the children were born there, go to local schools and some very ill elderly people are with local doctors. They'd turned it into a very nice place and it was in the middle of nowhere, so why did anybody complain?"
Miss Norwood said she didn't even know any gypsies when she started fighting for Stow Horse Fair, which was threatened by a High Court injunction banning overnight camping on the fair field.
She said: "The gypsies stick to the dates granted by the Royal Charter over 500 years ago and have a right to be here.
"Somebody needs to fight for them as other ethnic groups aren't treated in the same way."