A homeless Hastings woman with a complex medical condition is facing huge fines for non-payment of parking tickets.

Roxanne Roma has been living in a camper van on St Leonards sea front since March this year. Numerous parking tickets litter the windscreen representing hundreds of pounds in unpaid fines. East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has threatened to remove the van.

Unlike the ageing and eccentric ‘Lady in the Van’, immortalised in Alan Bennett’s famous play, Roxanne would rather be at home. But home has become a hostile environment for her, as she suffers from MCS and ES – multiple chemical- and electro-sensitivity. Alongside the parking tickets on her windscreen is a letter from her doctor stating that Roxanne suffers with complex immune problems caused by environmental chemicals and has severe bodily symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic frequencies. He says she is unable to stay safely in her home but is “less affected at the beach.”

Roxanne, a former hairdresser and reflexologist, had been living near Bexhill with her ten-year-old daughter when the problems reached tipping point. When new neighbours arrived next door, presumably with Wi-Fi equipment, she began experiencing severe health problems. For a while she used her car as a refuge, but eventually made a move to the seafront where at least 50% of her environment is relatively free of microwave radiation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises EHS, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, as a phenomenon causing individuals to experience adverse health effects in the vicinity of devices giving off electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic fields [EMFs].  According to the WHO, such symptoms are certainly real, and EHS can be a “disabling problem for the affected individual”. It also indicates that there are currently no clear diagnostic criteria for the illness, although research is ongoing.

British MPs recognised the seriousness of the problem during a special parliamentary debate on “Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields” held in Westminster Hall last month.

Sponsoring the debate, Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi described electro-sensitivity as “an illness caused by environmental agents” with “symptomatic sensitivity to electric or magnetic fields of any frequency”. She told MPs that symptoms included brain fog, headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nosebleeds and palpitations. And she accused the Government of “sweeping the health concerns under the carpet”. 

Ms Antoniazzi also questioned why the WHO classification of radio frequency electromagnetic fields as “possible carcinogens” had been removed from Public Health England’s website. The classification was based on an increased risk of malignant brain cancers associated with mobile phones.

Responding for the government, junior health minister Seema Kennedy said: “Public Health England [PHE] takes its role very seriously, and is always monitoring the evidence.” Referring to the missing information, the minister said that PHE sends information about carcinogens to inquirers. She did, however, acknowledge that symptoms of electro-sensitivity were real and can be very debilitating. 

MPs observed that, since EU cautions, France has removed Wi-Fi from primary schools. Cyprus and Austria are warning teenagers and pregnant women about the risks of radio frequency signals. Sharon Hodgson, former Shadow Minister for Public Health, wanted to know whether the UK Government was going to take similar action. She also mentioned the need for provision of Wi-Fi free areas known as ‘white zones’.

Beki Milton lives on the seafront opposite Roxanne’s parking place. After hearing her story Beki began offering daily support on a voluntary basis. After two months she was taken on as a paid carer by ‘People Plus’. She cooks and delivers a daily meal as well as dealing with Roxanne’s basic needs. Beki told HIP she never knows how Roxanne will be: sometimes she is in good spirits, but at other times she may be very unwell and having seizures.

An appeal was lodged with ESCC along with a doctor’s letter stating Roxanne’s needs and medical condition. The appeal was rejected, and she was informed that her van would be removed. 

MP Amber Rudd has intervened on Ms Roma’s behalf. In a response from Rupert Clubb, Director of Transport and Environment at ESCC, Ms. Rudd was informed that, whilst the parking team was aware of Ms. Roma’s medical condition, it did not make her exempt from parking restrictions. They were however attempting to resolve the situation and find alternative parking.

Speaking to HIP, Roxanne said: ‘Moving me from my current location would be extremely hazardous to my health.Where can I go?”

Until councils make some Wi-Fi free ‘white zone’ provision for electro-sensitives, it seems that there is nowhere for people like Roxanne to go.

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