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What happens if Gypsies, Travellers or Travelling Showpeople enter land illegally?

Information on illegal entering/occupation of land.

Information on illegal entering/occupation of land.
 Questions Answers
Can the council remove Gypsies and Travellers from land which they own immediately?  

No, the council must:

  • show that the Gypsies / Travellers are on land without consent
  • make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children's education
  • ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with
  • follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of the land, details of the illegal encampment, service of notices and summonses that will enable them to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the courts to order the Gypsies / Travellers to leave the site

The Government has issued a summary guide to the powers available for dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments

Unauthorised camping is not a criminal offence. Trespass is a civil offence, giving landowners and local authorities the right to repossess their property using the due process of law.

How long will it take for the Gypsies or Travellers to be moved on?  

This will depend on the circumstances of each case. The council will need to take account of the issues outlined above.

We try to operate a balanced approach as suggested by case law and government guidelines. Whenever an unauthorised encampment occurs, the Gypsy/Traveller Liaison Officer visits and makes an assessment of the situation. If it is in a quiet location and causing little nuisance a decision may be made to leave the travellers in place for an agreed period, as there is no point in evicting from one site to a worse one. It is in everyone's interest to agree a leaving date with the travellers, as they get a period of stability and we save the not inconsiderable costs of eviction.

If and when we decide to take legal action there are still procedures to be followed. The Courts require public bodies like local councils (but not private landowners) to take account of considerations of common humanity, so we must carry out needs and welfare audits to discover if any allowances should be made before we proceed. We then put our case together and apply for a court date. Assuming that we are granted an Order, we then apply for a Warrant and book the Court Bailiff. It is impossible to put a time to this process but you can see that it is not an instant remedy.

Can the court refuse to grant the council an order to move Gypsies/Travellers on?  Yes. If there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies / Travellers to stay on the site or if the court believes that the council has failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies / Travellers. The council must try to find out this information before going to court.
If Gypsies or Travellers park on private land, what can the landowner do?  If Gypsies or Travellers enter private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility to take the necessary action to evict them. The landowner can attempt to agree a leaving date with the Gypsies / Travellers or take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction.
If the landowner fails to take action to remove the Gypsies or Travellers what will the council do?  Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site the landowner may be in breach of the Planning Acts and the Acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites. If the landowner is in breach of any planning or license requirements, then the council may take proceedings against the landowner to require removal of the illegal encampment.
What are the responsibilities of the police in this type of situation?  

The duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. The police will visit the site and in certain circumstances may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 if they consider the occupants are trespassing on the land. These powers will only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder not capable of being addressed by normal criminal legislation and in which the occupation of the land is a relevant factor. It is for the police alone to decide if Section 61 is to be utilised.

The police are bound by the Human Rights Act and may be constrained to avoid using Section 61 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being applied by the civil courts.

Where there is an alternative public site with pitches available the Police may use powers under Section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to move trespassers onto this site. This power can only be used to direct travellers onto a site within the same local authority area. This means that if there is a site within Dorset travellers from anywhere within Dorset can be directed onto it, but not travellers staying in Poole, Bournemouth or neighbouring counties.

Is it a criminal offence if Gypsies or Travellers break in and damage property?  

Breaking in and damaging property are separate offences to trespass. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police.

If the police were able to attribute any damage to one or more individuals they could be prosecuted through the courts but their punishment would not be eviction of the whole encampment. This is because British Law only punishes the wrongdoer, not their family, friends, or the whole community. Also, under Human Rights legislation, punishment must be proportionate. So while a person could be fined or imprisoned for criminal damage, it would not be reasonable to impound their home, prevent their legal employment or disrupt the education of their children.

What about vehicle checks?  The police do run vehicle checks on new encampments and Travellers are prosecuted as and when appropriate. Many Travellers' vehicles are taxed and some are so old they are tax exempt. Most Gypsies have modern well-maintained vehicles which are used to support their business interests, so they are almost invariably taxed and MoT'd. There is an issue with some of the vehicles the New Travellers live in, as they are off the road for most of the year. The police will stop any dangerous vehicles as they move between sites, and have them removed from the highway but if an eviction is to be successful arrangements have to be made to allow them to move on.
Why aren't strong defences put in place to stop Gypsies /Travellers breaking in to sites?  It is a national problem that traditional stopping places are being protected to such an extent that Gypsies and Travellers are being forced into larger groups and on to more conspicuous sites. They are also more likely to seek to prolong their stay if their options for alternative sites are reduced. Also, there are considerations to be taken into account when designing protective measures. They have to be economic and they have to take account of the other uses of the site. For example, public areas and picnic sites must continue to give access to the general public but if some access is allowed there is always an opportunity for unwanted visitors to break in.
Can't illegal encampments be prevented by better liaison between neighbouring councils and the police? We do work together and pass information on when we have it. Large-scale 'invasions' need special treatment and get it, but most of our encampments are 20 vehicles or fewer and we do not have the resources to play cat and mouse with them. Not only that, Gypsies and Travellers have to be somewhere and it is no good the police chasing them from pillar to post - sooner or later they will have to park up and the complaints will begin. Unless local authorities can provide suitable stopping places, Gypsies and Travellers will continue to find their own.
Is Dorset a "soft touch" for travellers? There is no evidence at all that this is the case. We have regular contact with authorities all over England and we all operate to the same Government guidelines. It is true that some areas take legal action much more quickly than others and urban areas are much less likely than rural areas to tolerate sites for extended periods of time. There is no evidence that Dorset has any more Gypsies and Travellers than neighbouring Counties. However there is evidence, both in Dorset and across the country, that when a transit site is in operation it can dramatically reduce the levels of unauthorised camping as some travellers groups choose to leave the area rather than be directed onto the authorised site.
Would other people be treated differently if say, they parked a caravan on a picnic site? No - we are all treated the same. However, there are differences between the two cases, the first being the way that people react to authority: for instance - if a policeman tells me to move my car I tend to move straight away, but I could tell him to go away and come back with the paperwork and see where that leads the discussion! Secondly, the majority of us have houses to go back to but Gypsies' or Travellers' vehicles may be their only homes and the source of their livelihood. Councils need to consider carefully whether to take legal action, not just for reasons of Human Rights and common humanity but also considering economic and logistical problems.
Should the law be changed to make it easier to move Gypsies and Travellers on?

The Government has recently introduced stronger powers for the police to move Gypsies and Travellers on more quickly, but only where local authorities have provided alternative sites in their area to which Travellers can be directed. See above "What are the responsibilities of the Police in this type of situation?"

In Dorset, we are in the process of identifying alternative locations through the production of a Development Plan Document so that we can make best use of the new powers and also so that we can give clear guidance to Gypsies and Travellers on where they can and cannot stay. The Development Plan process will, however, take some time and in the interim the County Council is proposing to open a temporary transit site at Piddlehinton to supplement the one that operates every year around the time of the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Along with the Government, we recognise that Gypsies and Travellers are human beings and that they need to be somewhere. Travelling as a way of life can not be prohibited however uncomfortable the fit with modern living. The police have powers available to them but these powers have to be used with consideration and a care for the consequences.

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