A brutal killing, cigarette smuggling, a tax revolt, a human rights dispute are the last things one would expect to find in an English village.
But all of them have happened in Cottenham, outside the ancient university town of Cambridge, where a bitter land dispute is dividing villagers and modern-day nomads.
At the heart of the ill will is a fight over efforts by the wandering people known as travelers to turn a trailer site into a permanent settlement. Many longtime residents have refused to pay local taxes, demanded intervention by the central government and launched a nationwide campaign urging villages around Britain to drive out travelers who set up illegal camps in their communities.
Their campaign, dubbed "Middle England in Revolt," appears to have fed into what some people see as Britain's deep prejudice against the nomads, whose roving lifestyle has placed them outside society's mainstream.
"Some people think all travelers are gangsters, but we bought this land legally, and if we lose our appeal, we'll go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights," said Roger Slattery, 58, an unofficial spokesman for the travelers at Cottenham.
"We haven't come here to take over Cottenham," he said.
For centuries, traveler families -- often large, poor and illiterate -- have roamed from village to village across Britain, picking crops at harvest time or selling goods and livestock at local fairs. But like Gypsies in continental Europe, the nomads are often accused of criminal activities and face discrimination.
Public disputes emerged from time to time over what communities should do to accommodate the travelers and their trailer homes.
In 1968, Britain's Parliament passed a law compelling local councils in rural areas to provide traveler families with temporary living sites, often equipped with bathrooms, drinking water and garbage disposal facilities.
By 1994 so many towns had complained about travelers settling down illegally at the sites that Parliament repealed the act. It also introduced new eviction powers and encouraged travelers to buy their own land, build houses and educate their children in local schools.
Estimates of the number of travelers living in England and Wales vary from 120,000 to 300,000. The close-knit families, many of them Irish, often remain separate from local communities to preserve their traditions and customs, including providing dowries when daughters marry.
For about 40 years, a traveler site known as Smithy Fen has existed on the outskirts of Cottenham, a village of 6,000.
Over time, Smithy Fen's 37 plots changed from temporary to permanent dwelling sites, with some zoned for trailers, some for houses. Eventually, they were bought by travelers, but exactly who owned what wasn't always clear.
Then in 2002, dozens of new travelers, including many Irish immigrants, arrived in Cottenham and bought most of the Smithy Fen sites and some surrounding farmland.
The Cottenham Residents Association, a newly formed group of local landowners, accused the travelers of invading the site and trying to expand it far beyond its intended boundaries, in violation of local planning regulations. The county government is seeking to block the use of 17 unauthorized sites and also opposes the travelers' application to develop 11 more plots.
In addition, the landowner association has accused the newcomers of engaging in anti-social behavior, including littering, defecating and urinating in public, and joy riding on local roads, sometimes pushing farming tractors out of their way.
People have also pointed to the apparent wealth of the travelers, some of whom have bought property in a hot real-estate market and drive expensive cars such as BMWs. One Irish newspaper labeled them the "Gucci gypsies."
Last year, a police raid on Smithy Fen confiscated $1.4 million worth of cigarettes on which no duty had been paid. That prompted a local activist leader, Terry Brownbill, to accuse the travelers of living off smuggling and money laundering.
The dispute turned ugly Nov. 30 when a local postman, Peter Stone, 37, was beaten to death at the Chequers Pub, which is frequented by travelers. No charges have been filed, but the continuing police investigation involved a visit to Rathkeale, a village in southwestern Ireland where many of the travelers are from or connected with, authorities said.
Ethel Yarrow, 78, who is retired, and Katherine Iback, 38, a teacher whose classes have included traveler children, both said they were frightened by Stone's death.
"The travelers haven't troubled me, but the killing shocked the whole area. We had never had one before, and everyone is blaming the travelers," said Yarrow.
"I don't think the travelers are a problem. We've had travelers living here for years," Iback said. "But we're always hearing rumors about the killing and about Smithy Fen."
At Smithy Fen, Slattery, the traveler leader, said, "We're used to three sources of hatred we have long faced in England: We're Irish, we're Catholic, we're travelers."