Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Police need power to evict travellers, says councillor

Travellers set up camp on recreation ground

Travellers on council land last month

POLICE should have more power to evict travellers, says a councillor.

Sarah Hall was speaking at a meeting of Kidmore End Parish Council following a series of incidents in the Henley area.

She said that more should be done to protect people’s property when there are incursions.

It comes after the River & Rowing Museum in Henley, the trustees of Shiplake memorial hall and Richard McQuillan, from Chalkhouse Green, were forced to hire an enforcement firm from Bristol to remove travellers from their land over four days last month.

In each instance, staff from Able Investigations and Enforcements moved the travellers on rather than the police.

Councillor Hall said: “Frankly, the police were utterly useless because they had their hands tied by legislation.

“I don’t think it’s the police’s fault but it did seem really rather sad that they couldn’t ask them nicely to go. It would be lovely if they had stronger powers.

“It could easily happen again because I know when we moved here 50 years ago the local gypsies considered Kidmore End, because of the heaths, very much gypsy land and that they had a right to be here, so we are very vulnerable.”

She said the victims of traveller incursions should not lose money — Mr McQuillan paid about £4,500 to hire the enforcement firm.

Cllr Hall said: “I wonder what legality there was for removing people without having to pay this enormous sum? The horror is that when the bailiffs came, for one night, a removal of seven caravans cost £4,500, which I find unspeakable.

“And they [the travellers] also left one of their vans behind in order, I suspect, to get back in.

“We went up there and saw what they had done. They actually left human faeces in the garden, which is unspeakable, and were trying to pinch things.

“The children were the worst and the most hostile and frightening and they constantly pinched things.

“For the McQuillans it was not only a most disgusting incursion but also incredibly distressing and frightening for them. The bailiffs, I think, were in a very happy position. They were more frightening than the gypsies, I can tell you.”

Councillor Andrew Harland suggested engaging with other parish councils to establish a joint approach to tackling future traveller incursions.

He said: “There needs to be a discussion across the different parishes about how this might be dealt with because it’s a problem for the whole area. Some of these people are very threatening — that’s been the experience that some people I know have had.”

Councillor Caroline Aldridge, who chairs the council, suggested that landowners should ensure their fields were secure to prevent access.

Cllr Hall said the enforcement firm’s staff had told her that travellers never broke into fields with livestock and always looked for sites with water.

She added: “Obviously, I appreciate that if they were genuinely homeless people they should be provided for — nobody thinks otherwise — but did anybody see the quality of the caravans? I mean, they were the top of the range. These weren’t poor people.” Councillor Peter Dragonetti, who represents the parish on South Oxfordshire District Council, said it was a “big” problem but he couldn’t offer any advice except perhaps trying a number of enforcement firms in order to obtain a competitive quote.

He added: “Perhaps some brave person could put a tracker device on one of these caravans and then you can see where they’re going.”

The council is to write to Henley MP John Howell about the issue.

Thames Valley Police said trespass was a civil matter and not dealt with by the police.

However, under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 police have limited powers to deal with unauthorised encampments in certain situations.

They can direct people to leave where two or more people are trespassing with the intention of residing and either have six or more vehicles, caused damage while entering the land or been abusive to the landowner or lawful occupier of that land.

They would do this by serving a notice that requires trespassers to leave and if they fail to do so, then it is an offence.

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