Travellers attending a Gypsy evangelical Christian festival in a market town caused mayhem today as two people were arrested for attempted robbery and anti-social behaviour, shops bolted their doors and schoolchildren were told not to walk alone.
Oakham was in a ‘state of panic’ amid anti-social behaviour, assaults, high-speed drag-racing reminiscent of the Mad Max films and claims gangs of men were ‘driving around the villages looking for things they can take’.
Several supermarkets and other businesses in the town in Rutland closed early following claims of looting and toilets being left unusable for customers, while witnesses said maskless youths terrorised staff and diners in the local McDonald’s and went behind the counter to grab meals and hurl food and drink.
The trouble started on Saturday when around 1,500 travellers descended on the Rutland Showground for the Pentecostal Gypsy-led Christian event, called the Festival of Light and Life – but organisers admit ‘a lot of non-Christians have attended’.
The event, run for the growing number of Pentecostal Christian travellers in the UK, ends on Thursday. Its organisers deny there have been major problems and have invited critics in for a ‘cup of tea and a sandwich’ – but many people in Oakham want it ‘shut down’ and believe police are too frightened to do it because it involves travellers and religion.
Local Tory MP Alicia Kearns today said ‘there were more unacceptable disturbances and further intimidation of our community’ as locals complained to police about assaults and nightly drag-racing on the ring road with no intervention from officers.
And today Catmose Primary School in the town wrote to parents about ‘social order incidents’ that ‘will inevitably worry families about the safety of children coming to and from school’. Head of School Kelly Jackson said: ‘We would advise that your child does not walk on their own, they should be in small groups and have mobile phones with them. If they encounter difficulties, they should contact the police for support’.
Multiple locals have claimed online that the team running the Rutland Showground [RS] were duped and allegedly told it would only involve a small number of people – but instead hundreds of caravans turned up and a giant circus tent was pitched.
MailOnline has asked RS if they had expected an event of this size and to explain why the Life and Light festival had been sanctioned at the Rutland Showground when the forthcoming Festival of Food and Farming, beloved by locals, has been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Covid rules allow groups of up to 30 to worship together outside, but footage from the festival shows hundreds together singing hymns together and dancing to a band at services at a time when weddings are limited to 30 people and couples face a £10,000 fine if they flout social-distancing measures and face masks.
It came weeks after large groups of travellers descended on Cumbria for the Appleby Horse Fair – despite it being postponed over Covid – and the case of 12 caravans who took over a park in the affluent area of Kew Gardens, west London, but fled hours before an eviction notice could be served.
Today, businesses on Oakham’s Mill Street – an upmarket shopping district in the market town – closed early for the day for fear of being targeted by travellers.
The trouble started on Saturday when around 1,500 travellers descended on the Rutland Showground for the Pentecostal Gypsy-led Christian event, called the festival of Light and Life – but organisers admit ‘a lot of non-Christians have attended’ the event that has its own giant tent (left of picture)
The scene inside the big tent at a traveller Pentecostal Christian festival locals say flouts covid regulations and should be shut down
Festival goers pray and sing hymns with a live band during the event that has caused consternation locally
Gladwells art gallery shut its doors this morning and removed expensive paintings from display in the windows.
A nearby trader, who asked us not to reveal the name or nature of her business, feared losing a significant chunk of the £40,000 she makes roughly a week.
Meanwhile the Equilibrium beauty salon was closed only to customers who had already made bookings.
Owner Selena Bailey said: ‘I can’t afford to lose business especially so soon after being closed because of Covid but I’m going to have to because I don’t want the risk of any products being stolen from the shelves.
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’.
‘We’ve had people trying the doors to shops and businesses on Mill Street after hours so we are not taking any risks today.
‘I’ve locked the door and kept the security grill down on the windows and we are only letting in those who have already booked ahead.
‘I don’t like to think bad of people and I have to say that personally we haven’t had any issues so far but we are just being ultra-cautious.
‘Normally I wouldn’t be in on a Monday as it would only be a therapist and receptionist but I wanted to make sure my staff and the building were safe. It is unnerving having that many people on the show ground – we are only a small market town and aren’t used to such crowds.’
A clothing store on Mill Street had stuck a note on the door explaining that for this week they were only open by appointment.
A staff member said: ‘Two men came down this morning and tried to come in but we had to tell them that without an appointment they couldn’t enter the store. I got the impression that they were trying to scope out our security.
‘There is a lot of fear in Oakham that the travellers might target some of the shops on this road, which is the sort of upmarket retail area of the town.
‘The police have stepped up patrols and many businesses have either decided to close or do the same as us and open on appointment only.’
A jewellery business on Mill Street was today letting one customer in at a time and only after they had rung the intercom to be buzzed in.
A worker said: ‘We are only really allowing regulars or those with pre-booked appointments into the shop. Throughout the afternoon on Saturday we had groups of people forcibly trying to get in who were really pushing aggressively on the door.
‘It’s quite intimidating having the travellers here. It’s horrible feeling so vulnerable.’
However a worker at a ladies clothes store further down the road dismissed the fears of other retailers and said: ‘They’ve been no bother at all.
‘I can’t see what the issue is, as long as people are polite and cordial then I have no problem with anyone. I’m not particularly concerned the travellers have turned up. It’s no different to a rock concert.’
However, two police community support officers were today guarding the entrance to a McDonald’s restaurant, which had been forced to close after trouble flared yesterday and over the weekend.
Youths are said to have become abusive and threatening to staff, pelting them with burgers and fast food. Only the drive-through has remained open.
The mother of one worker told MailOnline: ‘It was awful, my daughter was left in tears. She hasn’t worked there for very long but some of the travellers were extremely abusive and intimidating, especially in large groups.’
Staff at the neighbouring BP Garage and M&S store have also experienced problems and have employed a security guard at the front door.
Gate 3 at the Gypsy-Christian festival being held at the Rutland Showground in Oakham today
Caravans at at the Gypsy evangelical Christian festival in a market town in Rutland, pictured today
One staff member said: ‘Some of them are very threatening, it’s mainly the younger ones who come in and steal stuff.
‘We’ve had a lot of stock taken. On one hand we’ve got a lot of new customers who are spending money but on the other a lot of stuff is going missing.
‘We have a traffic light system due to Covid and so if there’s a red light at the door it means there’s too many people inside and customers have to wait for the green light before coming in.
‘On Sunday afternoon, groups were just ignoring the queues and coming in without face-masks throughout the day. One group stole a load of beer and wine and sauntered out. The problem is that we have a policy of non-confrontation.
‘It’s been very stressful, some of the youngsters try and buy energy drinks, which are age restricted, and when we explain they cannot buy them we’ve been sworn at, verbally abused and had bits of bread and food thrown at us.
‘That’s not to say that all of the travellers behave that way because they don’t. Many others that we’ve had in have been lovely and very friendly with some even dropping £20 notes into a charity bucket outside the store.
‘The police have started to patrol the business park now which has made things slightly better but we are still on edge.’
According to locals, teenagers from the travellers camp are said to have started playing football in the middle of a nearby Aldi store while others held a drag race on the bypass by the showground on Saturday night.
One group of teenagers were seen running amok and jumping on car bonnets on the car park of a nearby GP garage and Aldi, which has stayed open.
Local businessman Carl Ford, 55, said most smaller firms were forced to close their doors and residents were avoiding the town due to ‘fears for their safety.’
He said: ‘The last 24 hours have been absolute carnage. They have been running amok and showing no respect for our town. On top of antisocial behaviour I can’t imagine how many Covid breaches there have been.
‘They are packing in to tents like sardines and with the latest strain it is very worrying. They were all racing up the Oakham bypass. It was like a race track up there last night. I’ve seen some police but not enough, they look out of control to me.
‘People are not coming into town over fears for their own safety. The police have mostly let it all happen, they are outnumbered.’
Another local, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘It’s been a nightmare. Our town has been over-run and they are leaving a lot of mess in the process.
‘I can’t fathom how this event has been allowed to go ahead. It just beggars belief the authorities haven’t close this down already. I’m sure most of them are behaving but a minority have been causing mayhem and something needs to be done about it.
‘I’m scared to leave my own home and nobody should ever be made to feel like that.’
Another elderly resident added: ‘It has been incredibly noisy here the last few days. I know there’s been issues especially at the McDonald’s which is only a two-minute walk away.
‘It has made me feel uneasy and a bit scared especially as I usually go walking with my child in a pushchair.
‘We’ve not had any anti social behaviour up here which I’m very grateful for but it’s definitely making me and my family feel uneasy.’
Police confirmed two people have so far been arrested. Leicestershire Police said they had dealt with a number of crimes including attempted robbery, antisocial behaviour and driving offences.
Superintendent Jonny Starbuck said: ‘Our presence continues in Oakham and at the Light and Life event at Rutland Show Ground.
‘We have additional resources from the wider force to assist in dealing with issues that have been reported including an increase in anti-social behaviour, some criminal offences and driving offences.
‘This is an outdoor event which is legal. We have been working with the event organisers and partners to ensure that Covid rules are followed.
‘Local officers continue to patrol on the ground and to engage with local business owners and licensed premises.
‘We are investigating a number of offences including attempted robbery and anti-social behaviour. Two arrests have been made so far. Residents in the area continue to report anti-social behaviour which we are responding to.
‘We are working closely with our partners, with the organiser and with participants at the event to ensure that people can go about their usual business with the least disruption.
‘Where offences are committed, we will deal with them effectively and robustly.
‘Our enhanced visible presence throughout the day, both around the site and in the town itself, is there to enhance reassurance to our local communities whilst also supporting a swift response where needed.’
The travelling community has moved towards evangelical Christianity and away from Catholicism in recent years
The event, run for the growing number of Pentecostal Christian travellers in the UK, ends on Thursday. Its organisers deny there has been major problems and have invited critics in for a ‘cup of tea and a sandwich’.
Locals say they have been too scared to go out and businesses have refused to open because of claims of looting and intimidation
Local Tory MP Alicia Kearns today said ‘there were more unacceptable disturbances and further intimidation of our community’ as locals complained to police about assaults and nightly drag-racing on the ring road with no intervention from officers
Business owners in the town are too scared to open and reported CCTV feeds of their premises showed people trying doors after hours, while one man claimed gangs of men were ‘driving around the villages looking for things they can take’.
Catmose Primary School has written to parents urging them not to let children walk alone while the travellers are in town
Locals say the sedate market town in the UK’s smallest county was turned into a post-apocalyptic ‘scene out of Mad Max’ after some attendees of the Gypsy Christian festival ran amok.
Locals have also criticised what they perceived to be a lack of a serious police presence in the town as the festival continued before a number of arrests were made last night.
Pubs and restaurants were forced to close early, McDonalds workers were reduced to tears by food fights and anti-social behaviour while 4X4s were seen drag racing on the town bypass meaning some people in Oakham have been too scared to leave their homes.
But a traveller at the centre of the event, who asked to remain anonymous, has denied there was chaos in Rutland over the weekend, insisting it was ‘nice and peaceful on the field’ and hinted that any criticism may be stoked by anti-traveller sentiment.
He told the BBC: ‘We are inviting the locals to come down and have a look for themselves, listen to what it’s all about and come have a cup of tea and a sandwich any time. Obviously there has been the odd disturbance but it is a minority and they are nothing to do with the organisation. With us being a gypsy and traveller organisation it always comes with the stigma of us causing trouble, but we are just preaching the gospel.’
However, locals say any criticism is well-founded, and many people questioned why the Life and Light festival had been sanctioned at the Rutland Showground when the forthcoming Festival of Food and Farming has been cancelled due to Covid restrictions.
Elijah Ward, from the church’s Darlington branch which organised the event, said that if there was trouble it was not caused by his church’s followers.
Mr Ward said: ‘We are a Christian community and we are followers of Jesus. A lot of non-Christians have attended. Jesus says we should go into the community and preach the good news of the lord and that is what we are doing. We are trying to preach the gospel to them… to help them change their ways.’
Life and Light Missions started as Vie et Lumiere in France about 50 years ago, and took off in the UK after French Gypsies brought the Gospel over about 30 years ago.
In 2017, attendees at a similar Light and Life event in Thame, Oxfordshire, were accused of inflicting ‘chaos’ and crime, including theft and abusive behaviour towards local residents.
Oakham residents say the Rutland Showground either didn’t do their due diligence or were duped.
Zoe Nealson, the town mayor, said the community was ‘on edge’. She added: ‘Residents have endured massive levels of disruption and anti-social and threatening behaviour.
‘It’s extremely worrying. This is an organised festival which went through the proper channels but it appears to have got out of hand very quickly.
‘Lots of people have reported police disinterest but I have also seen pictures showing lots of police vehicles on the bypass.’
One woman writing on social media told how she had been forced in to the curb as she drove her children home after swerving to avoid ‘two big trucks racing each other along the bypass’.
Another resident said his 17-year-old daughter had endured her worst ever shift at the local McDonalds, where customers thought to be attending the festival ignored mask and social distancing requirements and began throwing food around the restaurant.
Among hundreds of angry comments on Rutland Showground’s Facebook page was one from Dean Collins who warned that ‘shops are being looted and closing down early to avoid trouble’.
Meanwhile Ian Stewart wrote on Saturday night: ‘Just walked the dog down the bypass, it’s like a scene out of Mad Max, the bypass is more like a drag strip tonight. A brand new Range Rover almost pulling a wheelie, Mustangs letting rip, trucks turning round in middle of the highway, hundreds and hundreds of caravans.’
Martin Underwood added: ‘It’s 21.40 and there are clearly drag races on the roads, alcohol and more and more vehicles arriving. No police, no responsibility by the showground and this will cost a fortune to clear up.’
Elsewhere, other people took to social media to question whether the mass outdoor gather should have been allowed amid a national spike in Covid-19 infections and a four-week delay to remaining lockdown measures lifting.
One asked the Rutland Showground: ‘How have you allowed a huge event to take place which threatens a community which has obeyed the rules and kept covid levels low? This beggars belief. Time to shut the event down.’
Another tweeted: ‘It’s all kicking off in #oakham, the local showground has taken a booking of 30 for a religious gathering and 3000 ‘travellers’ have descended. Drag racing, looting and anti social behaviour.’
A third fumed: ‘Disgusted to see a mass gathering on the Rutland Showground this morning- 700 caravans (and rising) on site for a ‘religious event’… I can’t see my son compete in his sports day because of covid rules’.
Residents in Oakham said the town is in a ‘state of panic’ following reports of physical and verbal abuse of staff and locals after travellers came to attend a religious event at the Rutland Showground (pictured)
Residents in Oakham said the town is in a ‘state of panic’ following reports of drag racing after travellers came to attend a mass event in Rutland Showground (pictured) in Leicestershire
Organisers said that it was ‘peaceful’ at the site and suggested criticism could be because the locals are anti-traveller
Residents claim some attendees attempted to steal from nearby shops or break into premises, while there have allegedly been reports of fighting. Pictured: Caravans at the showground
Residents claim some attendees have been attempting to steal from nearby shops or break into premises, while there have allegedly been reports of fighting in the area, according to
One resident told the publication: ‘We’re scared to leave our houses. They have blocked one of the bypasses with their trucks and some local staff in shops have been physically and verbally abused.
Police confirmed that they made a number of arrests on Sunday evening following reports of ‘anti-social behaviour’ at the showground.
Oakham residents have claimed that anti-social behaviour linked to the religious festival has caused deep distress, while one resident described cars racing along the Rutland bypass as like ‘something out of Mad Max’.
Rutland Showground issued an apology on its Facebook page after a ‘minority of people’ disrupted the religious event and caused ‘significant problems’.
Their statement read: ‘We are currently hosting a religious festival on our site which we are aware is causing disturbance to our neighbours. We wholeheartedly apologise for this.
‘We agreed to the booking after assessing the organisers risk assessment and with the belief that this was an event primarily about Christian worship.
‘However there is a minority of people who are disrupting the event and causing significant problems in around the showground.
‘Our priority is to help maintain public order and minimise disruption and allow the event to refocus on its Christian worship as quickly and quietly as possible. We have been in contact with the police who have been onsite today.’
Supt Adam Slonecki, from Leicestershire Police’s Specialist Support team, said the force had received reports of anti-social behaviour relating to the ‘private event which is legally authorised’ on private land.
‘With permission from the organiser we will be regularly going into the event and continue to engage with the event co-ordinator to ensure they are Covid safe,’ he said.
‘We would like to reassure residents that we have extra foot patrols, a dedicated roads policing car and a specialist drone team operating in the area. In addition, local officers will be engaging with local businesses and licenced premises.’
In a statement, Rutland Showground said the booking for the event was accepted after organisers produced a risk assessment which covered the management of Covid risks and other issues.
The statement added: ‘It is being managed by 90 pastors supported by a team of 40 stewards. In addition, we have a team of security staff on site.
‘The event which has around 1,500 adults and children in their own motor homes/caravans has also attracted a minority who have been causing a disproportionate amount of antisocial activity.
‘We are working closely with the organisers and liaising with the authorities to minimise and contain this antisocial activity.
‘We regret the disruption that has been caused and apologise to all those affected.’
Leicestershire Police said officers would be regularly going into the event to speak with the event co-ordinator and ensure the private gathering remained Covid safe.
While Rutland Agricultural Society CEO Kevin Tighe said the outdoor event was self-contained and using no onsite facilities across the 45-acre fields and was being managed by 90 pastors and supported by 40 stewards.
Mr Tighe said a risk assessment had been done prior to the event, which covered issues including Covid risks, and said this was being implemented ‘to the best of his knowledge’.
He said the event attracted 1,500 attendees in caravans and motor homes, but insisted it was a ‘minority’ of others who caused a ‘disproportionate amount of antisocial activity’.
Responding to concerns on Twitter, Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland and Melton, said: ‘I’m aware of concerns around reckless driving and incidents in Oakham today related to a large event at Rutland Showground.
‘I am liaising with the Council and the Police regarding compliance to COVID regulations and monitoring concerns.’
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