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Gypsies and Travellers Furious at Bid to Criminalise Illegal Encampments

Published on: 22 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 23 Mar, 2021

A Traveller incursion at Bannister’s Field, Guildford

Angry Travellers and Gypsies have struck back at the new laws on illegal encampments in England and Wales, calling them racist, citing the lack of legal sites and saying most police forces did not want criminalisation.

On Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Facebook page, Joseph P Jones, of the Gypsy Council, wrote: “You are criminalising a problem created by the failings of a political will to deliver appropriate accommodation.

“Travellers are told they have to prove they travel to gain planning permission for their own private sites,” he added. “But locally, councils refuse to provide public sites. Well, racism is alive and well in the Home Office. Through political failure.”

Sir Paul Beresford MP

Mole Valley Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford said in the Anti-Protest Bill’s Second Reading in the Commons last week: “My constituency has a number of legitimate Traveller sites. The relationship between the settled communities and the so-called Travellers on official sites is generally harmonious.

“Surrey County Council and district and borough councils are setting up a transit site, with facilities, for Travellers. All this is very different from the frequent illegal Traveller invasions. Surrey has had hundreds of these incidents, and my constituency has more than its fair share.

“Over recent years, the numbers of these illegal land-squatting camps have increased. If access is inhibited by barriers, gates, or any form of obstruction, they are broken down or removed, and generally damaged.

“The Travellers then squat on-site regardless of the ownership, be it common land, parkland, farmland, private land or even a school playground.”

But Abbie Kirkby, public affairs and policy manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “The Government seems hell-bent on introducing tougher police powers for people living on roadside camps, even though all the evidence is stacking up against them.

“The views of the majority of consultation respondents have been ignored, opening the door to a harsh and unfair set of proposals which punish some of the UK’s minority ethnic groups, who already face some of the starkest inequalities.

“Our research shows the majority of police respondents are against the proposals and there is a chronic national shortage of places to stop. The government should not imprison people, fine them and remove their homes for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere to go.

“Another way is possible. Through negotiated stopping and by identifying land where Traveller sites can be built, councils can ensure nomadic families have a safe place to stop, save money on evictions and improve relations between Travelling and settled communities. Everybody needs a place to live.”

In the Commons, Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs voted against the Second Reading.

Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy, Lib Dem spokesperson for Mole Valley, said: “Unauthorised encampments are an occasional problem in Mole Valley, and the council has an experienced team which deals with them firmly, fairly and efficiently. We’ve reduced incursions by securing our public spaces, rather than through criminal prosecutions.

“Will the Conservatives’ new anti-Traveller offence in their Anti-Protest Bill make any difference? I doubt it. The police oppose it and say they don’t need more powers or criminal offences.

“The bottom line is you can’t prosecute Travellers who have nowhere else to go. If officers arrest them or seize their property, local authorities will have to house them and their families at taxpayers’ expense.

“The solution is more Traveller transit sites. So I’m pleased Sir Paul is backing Mole Valley’s Liberal Democrat administration, which voted to make a financial contribution to the new Surrey-wide transit site in Tandridge, rather than Conservative opposition councillors who inexplicably voted against.”

Ann Clark, of the Labour Party in Mole Valley, said: “It Is good to know councils are creating legal sites to provide somewhere for Travellers legitimately. These will reduce the need for enforcement. Less enforcement means less work for already overburdened police and councils.

“But Paul Beresford fails to realise the latest Bill will criminalise trespass alongside legitimate protest, creating much more work for the police. The Bill is a standard response to legal activities the Tories don’t like.

“They don’t like protest, they care less for Travellers but criminalising the legal behaviour of citizens will not make issues they don’t like go away. Mr Beresford conveniently sidelines the human rights of communities and individuals but we should all be aware this legislation will affect us all.”

David Munro

And David Munro the Police & Crime Commissioner added: “I welcome Sir Paul’s comments and his consistent support in giving the police extra powers to deal with the minority of traveller encampments that have caused anxiety and distress to local communities.

“I believe that making trespass a criminal offence (under stringent conditions) will reset the balance between the rights of Travellers and those of the settled community. Above all, it will surely act as a deterrent for occupying land without authorisation in the first place.

“My only regret is that, given the slow pace of parliamentary legislation, the bill looks unlikely to become law in time for this year’s season. However, I am confident that Surrey Police with its partners, particularly borough and district councils, will do its very best to keep the peace in this highly contentious area.”

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Responses to Gypsies and Travellers Furious at Bid to Criminalise Illegal Encampments

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 22, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    We should all look at the various problems in this debate. If someone comes onto your land and says: “May we stopover for one night and move on, leaving nothing but footprints and taking nothing but memories,” you might agree.

    But in 2017 some of these visitors, to a common in Guildford, lifted a manhole cover and deposited several trees and multiple lumps of concrete (at the same time as the Burpham sewer blockage that August) and the sewer lads had to spend five days clearing it main by hand.

    So I say to Travellers – please don’t leave a trace of your stay. Don’t break locks and don’t leave your detritus. Prove you are responsible citizens in our communities.

    Then perhaps we won’t need to criminalize actions of trespassing and we won’t feel that you are attacking our way of life

  2. Susan Marshall Reply

    March 22, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    I am a Gypsy, the problem is other, less respectful, travellers taking over sites. A true gypsy will not stay on-site with them and move away.

  3. Sharon White Reply

    March 22, 2021 at 9:58 pm

    As Jim Allen says if these Travellers respected the neighbourhoods they stayed at then they would get greater support and acceptance. Ripley Common was left in a terrible state where the Travellers had tipped all their rubbish over the land leaving the community to pick up the bill of cleaning up. It is a shame that it has come to this but it is necessary.

  4. Paul Purcell Reply

    March 28, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Kennedy is far too complacent in his approach to dealing with unauthorised Traveller encampments. He sings the praises of Mole Valley Council in dealing with these incursions including securing public spaces. What arrogant nonsense.

    The illegal Travellers, very recently, just drove on to a public place in Leatherhead. If this had been secured it would have made no difference. The council would then had to go to court to get a warrant to remove them, and pay to clean up behind.

    No matter to Cllr Kennedy, it seems, that this cost is borne by the council and hence us as taxpayers. It is a considerable sum and that the “public place” was not available for the public while they were there and until the clean up was completed.

    Also, pity the poor landowner without Cllr Kennedy’s public funds to rely on if their land was invaded. Better that it was changed to a criminal action enabling very prompt police action.

  5. Daniel Hill Reply

    December 15, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    With Christmas just around the corner, it will be difficult for people in the GRT community to find a safe place to stop. I would like to offer my father’s site at Stoney Castle as a negotiated site for anyone who needs it.

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