A senior minister from an evangelical gypsy church that has been accused by the media of 'taking over' an Oxfordshire field has accused the police and press of racism.
Speaking to Christian Today, Jackie Boyd, who has been with the beleaguered Light and Life Gypsy Church for 35 years, hit back at hostile coverage of the church's annual convention at Thame Showground, whose organisers have claimed they were misled about the booking.
Some 3,000 Christian gypsies have gathered in the field, with the Sun and the Daily Mail running areal photographs provided by the police alongside reports quoting Thame and Oxfordshire County Agricultural Association, which hires out the field, complaining that it had been misled after the group booked as 'a religious group that was having its annual get-together'.
But Boyd pointed out that this was indeed the case, and that the real complaint among furious local residents, who are also quoted in both newspapers, was that the Christians who had gathered were gypsies.
The Sun's headline reads: 'Amazing aerial pictures show how thousands of travellers have taken over an Oxfordshire field after it was booked out for Christian festival.'
Speaking from the convention, Boyd, who described a packed programme of Bible sessions and children's ministry that is going on at the festival, laughed when the headline was read to him.
'We work in 45 countries of the world – we've been in this country for 35 years, this is our national convention, we've had one every year for 35 years; we use it for gospel outreach to try to get local gypsies in the church, to get them saved,' he said.
'We get shot down by the press so what can we do. This is the last kind of racism that is sanctioned in the UK, by people, the police, the press, by everybody.'
Boyd, 57, described how the police have told him to 'get a life' and put the phone down on him when he has complained about racism in the past.
'So in the end we just give in and continue to serve God,' he said.
Boyd said that there were around 5,000 of some 20,000 church members coming to the festival.
Police community support officers from Thames Valley Police have been patrolling the area of the showground 'to deal with any incidents,' according to MailOnline.
The Mail reported that the Thame and Oxfordshire County Agricultural Association claimed that the the group booked under a different name.
At the time of writing, the association's office phone was permanently engaged, and there was no response from the booking organiser's mobile phone.
The local Thame Hub website quoted the association as saying: 'we...were contacted by organisers of the Darlington Christian Fellowship Group for an above board annual meeting and contracts were signed and toilets booked & paid for all as we thought above board, BUT the showground has been invaded by approx 5000 believed to be Gypsies, they had booked the showground from now till Thursday paid for in full, it's a total nightmare they are cutting down the trees on the showground it's carnage up there, and yes the police are on site in force' (sic).
And the same website quoted the local council as saying it 'shares the concerns of many' over the gathering and referring any complaints to the police.
'As always it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Opinions expressed range from outright support to outright indignation,' the statement said.
'We have been assured by the police that they are doing all they can to monitor and control the current situation, based on the factual knowledge they have. They are the right organisation to deal with anything that is reported.'
Thame Hub also ran an interview with one of the gypies explaining the Christian nature of the event.
Critics of the gathering on social media included a local resident, James Brown, who said: 'Our lovely peaceful town has been taken over and we have this for a week. Well done to whoever was involved from Thame in allowing this to happen, you must be very proud of yourselves.'
But some defended the church. Sarah-Jane Rigg posted: 'I think everyone needs to just calm down – there are good and bad in every community and these people were judged pretty quickly from the moment people knew who they were.
'Wouldn't it be amazing if different cultures and faiths and communities could live side by side without any anger, damage, racial abuse, arguments etc?
'I think this is the travellers' opportunity to show the people of Thame that they can live side by side without locals gathering pitchforks at dawn.'
Boyd told the Mail: 'Whether we are gypsies or not, it doesn't matter: we are human beings. Everybody deserves a chance. People are saying we have overrun the town and it's despicable, but they have never even seen any of us...I've come to expect this.'
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: 'We were made aware of a private event taking place from Friday, August 4, which was due to be ongoing until Thursday, August 10 at Thame Showground.
'As with any large event, officers have provided a proportionate response.
'Neighbourhood and Police Community Support Officers have been patrolling the area to provide local reassurance and to deal with any reported incidents or traffic issues.'