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'Lady Diana' of Travellers to be laid to rest in Northern Ireland as thousands say their last goodbyes

By Claire McNeilly

Published 22/08/2016

Violet Crumlish is on her deathbed
Violet Crumlish is on her deathbed

The funeral of the "Lady Diana" of the Gypsy world - who is on her deathbed - will be held in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of Travellers have descended on Durdham Downs in Bristol to pay respects to terminally ill Violet Crumlish, who is being treated in a Bristol hospital for bowel cancer.

The 59-year-old mother-of-11, who is known as the "Traveller Queen" by her people, will be laid to rest in the province when she dies, according to her son Alex.

He said that the community had made the pilgrimage to the Bristol area because his mother was so highly respected in Travelling circles.

"She is a queen and a princess, she is like Lady Diana to the Travellers," he said.

"She is good to the poor and the sick - she is highly respected.

"She is like a mother to many in the Travelling community, which is why thousands are coming to see her.

"She is a lovely woman through and through and we are very proud that so many people are coming to see her.

"We will take her back to Northern Ireland for her funeral."

To date, thousands of people from across Europe have made the trip to say their goodbyes to Mrs Crumlish, with more set to arrive.

Cars and caravans with Belgian, Swiss and Slovenian number plates, as well as British and Irish registrations, have parked up in Sneyd Park, while other makeshift sites have sprung up elsewhere in the city.

The Travellers have, however, caused a stir with locals, who claim they have spotted some of them using the bushes as toilets and of littering.

One local, John Michaels, who lives close to where the caravans are parked on The Downs, said the visitors were "absolutely filthy" and had been seen "drying out sleeping bags, reclining in deck chairs and making fires at the spot".

"I have always been of 'the live and let live' mentality, however I have genuinely been shocked by the behaviour of these Travellers - defecating in the bushes, rubbish everywhere, small fires, noise, swearing," said Mr Michaels.

Another resident, Neive Laing, said she was "disgusted" by what she saw.

Police say they are powerless to move them on unless "aggravating factors" are reported such as disorder, anti-social behaviour or crime.

Bristol City Council said its legal team would apply for an order to evict the Travellers from the land as soon as possible.

A spokesman said: "A welfare assessment has been completed and the paperwork has been sent to our legal team to apply for a possession order to recover the site as swiftly as possible. We are also working closely with the local police to monitor the situation."

Mrs Crumlish recently triggered a review of a council's housing register rules after being told she and her partner could not apply for a place on an official Travellers' site.

North Somerset Council confirmed the couple made the request around a year ago, saying they were homeless, and were rejected for not having a strong enough local connection.

A High Court challenge was launched against this decision but the case was settled before going to court when the couple were put on the register.

A spokesman said: "As it stands, you have to have a three-year connection to the local area, and that is the part under review and what we are going to consult on."

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