Travellers shut down town for third day over looting fears

Travellers shut down town for third day: Shops stay locked up over looting fears while two pubs and a drive-thru McDonald’s close due to fights after 1,500 Gypsies arrive for ‘Pentecostal’ festival in field

  • Oakham residents say town is in a ‘state of panic’ as Gypsy-Christian festival is held at Rutland Showground
  • Around 1,500 travellers descended on Rutland Showground for religious – but ‘non-Christians have attended’
  • There were reports of looting, drag racing at 80mph and physical and verbal abuse of staff at event

A market town remained locked down today after a gypsy festival ran amok by allegedly looting shops – with traders too worried to open for business.

Groups of travellers were said to have terrorised Oakham in Leicestershire after 1,500 of them descended on fields in the area for the Christian music festival with two pubs being wrecked and food fights breaking out at McDonalds and shoplifting at Aldi and M&S.

This morning, shops on Mill Street, a boutique shopping street in the centre of Oakham, were closed or open only by appointment for the second day this week.

Business owners say that a white van had been spotted driving along the street on Saturday with two women intermittently getting out and trying the doors of some of the shops. 

One business owner on Mill Street, who declined to be named, said: ‘People have seen them having a go at the door to the clothes shop and then walking over to the jewellers and trying that door.

‘This was just after 7pm on Saturday and the shops had their security grills down so it was obvious they were closed.

Aerial view of a massive religious festival near Oakham in Rutland where 1,500 travelers have descended onto the scene

Sharon Dickinson, who was managing a shop today, said she was told to keep the door locked and customers had to knock

McDonalds is closed except for drive-through next to Rutland Showground in Oakham after it had been hit by trouble

‘She may have been trying to see how sturdy the doors were or what the businesses had in terms of security, I don’t know, but whatever she was doing was odd.

‘Apparently a couple of women were seen getting in and out of a white van and trying the doors of certain businesses along the street. We think they are travellers who have come here for the religious fair on the Showground.’

Trent Galleries, which stocks expensive paintings and works of art worth thousands of pounds, had been due to reopen today after the weekend.

But manager Suzie Beecroft said the shop would instead remain closed.

She said: ‘We usually start the working week on Tuesdays but not today, we are staying closed unfortunately.

‘I had a conversation with the owner of the gallery this morning who felt it was probably safer because of what some of the travellers are said to have done over the weekend.

Police are keeping an active presence and have said they will crack down on any criminal behaviour or trouble making

A car was pulled over by police and the driver was found to have no insurance and taken away near Rutland Showground

Many businesses have decided to stay shut while the festival is taking place amid fears of anti-social behaviour and crime

‘It’s annoying because we were closed all through the latest Covid-lockdown and only re-opened a few weeks ago. Now we are shut again and potentially losing out on a lot of money. How long we are closed for, I can’t say.

‘I’ve come in to make a few calls and to sort out some admin but the doors are remaining locked all day. It’s like that way with several or the businesses.’

Partners clothes store, Lucy Flint Jewellery, Baba of Mine, a boutique baby clothes shop, and Gladwells, another art shop, were among businesses who have remained closed.

Others, including Cavells, a designer fashion store, and the Equilibrium beauty salon were open but only by appointment.

Gift shop Snapdragon was open but allowing in only two customers at a time.

Sharon Dickinson, who was managing the shop today, said: ‘We were open yesterday but I was told to keep the door locked and customers had to knock first before coming in.

‘We’ve relaxed that slightly today but I’ve been told that if I start to feel threatened I can lock them again.

Festival goers pray and sing hymns with a live band during the event that has caused consternation locally

The scene inside the big tent at a traveller Pentecostal Christian festival locals say flouts covid regulations and should be shut down

How millions of travellers (including Tyson Fury) have abandoned Catholicism for the evangelical Christianity at the heart of Oakham religious festival  

Travellers have abandoned their traditional Catholic faith in huge numbers for evangelical Christianity.

The Pentecostal movement, which is now Gypsy-led in the UK, has seen an explosion in numbers in the past 20 to 30 years.

Among the newer followers is celebrated heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury (pictured last week), who became a born-again Christian after his  uncle Ernest became a Pentecostal preacher in Congleton, Cheshire.

The move towards evangelical Christianity by travellers has become the subject of university studies, as academics try to work out why it has happened.

Some estimate that a third of Europe’s 12million travellers have now changed to this form of Christianity.

In her recent e-book, journalist Katharine Quarmby said on the subject: ‘In a reversal of roles, it is the Romani people who see themselves as the saved, the preachers of truth, who want to heal a world they see as broken by lack of faith, in a Europe where our politicians are judged to have lost much of their moral authority.’ 

Yvonne Macnamara, chief executive of the Traveller Movement, told the Guardian: ‘It’s a comfort blanket and within these communities it’s also a way of coping with a lifestyle that is constantly under attack and almost completely eroded.

‘When you’ve been such an excluded community, then religion can provide a form of kinship, direction and strength. That’s one reason so many in the community have such a profound faith’.

‘There is still a lot of tension here because we just aren’t used to having that many people come into such a small town and none of the businesses were given any warning whatsoever that there would be so many showing up.

‘To be fair, I’ve had no problems myself with anyone attending the travellers’ fair and the police have been patrolling here pretty regularly.

‘The travellers that I have seen around town have been friendly and polite so it’s a shame that a small number have caused problems and kind of tarred everyone with the same brush.’

Around 50 travellers apparently entered the Captain Noel Newton, a Weatherspoon’s pub in the middle of Oakham, on Saturday evening but are said to have begun fighting and causing havoc.

The pub, which should have been open at 8am this morning, was closed and locked up, much to the dismay of delivery drivers who had come all the way from Birmingham transporting kegs of beer.

Trouble also flared in another pub, Jinkys, with regulars clashing with travellers during which the landlord was punched, according to social media reports.

That bar was closed today as well, as it was all day yesterday when the Whipper Inn was the only pub in Oakham open and even then only to guests staying there. The Royal Duke, Bill’s Bar and The Admiral Hornblower were all closed last night on advice from Leicestershire Police.

Meanwhile officers kept a watch on the

Lands End Way retail park yesterday evening, which is next to the Rutland Showground and was the focus of much of the anti-social behaviour at the weekend.

Travellers shut down the local McDonalds restaurant after apparently abusing and threatening staff, having sex in the toilets and invading the kitchen area and hurling food around.

The fast-food joint was closed off all day yesterday and today with only the drive-through in operation.

There were also problems at the nearby Aldi supermarket, where some youths are said to have started to play football in the middle of the store and at the BP garage and M&S store on Saturday and Sunday.

Staff at the M&S, which has now hired a doorman, reported being harassed and pelted with food by youngsters who they stopped buying age restricted energy drinks. They also said travellers had been entering the store without face masks and were seen walking out with stolen bottles of beer and wine.

With an increased police presence, there were no real issues on Monday evening, although officers were seen talking to a group of travellers outside a takeaway near Oakham rail station as they removed a car for having no insurance.

The blue estate car was put on the back of a loader around 7.45pm and taken away.

A spokesperson for Leicestershire Police said: ‘The vehicle was seized due to having no insurance. There were no arrests.’

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