Police explain legal powers over unauthorised traveller encampment
Police in Suffolk have released details of their powers when dealing with unauthorised traveller encampment.
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “Police have a general duty to preserve the peace and prevent offences to the person and property, but trespass on land alone is not a criminal offence. The prevention of trespass is the responsibility of the landowner and occupier, not the police, and although we have powers to act in exceptional circumstances, civil remedies and local authority powers should be used in the first instance, unless there is evidence of a criminal offence.
“Suffolk Constabulary has always, and will continue to respond to complaints made by members of the public where there is evidence of an offence being committed or where nuisance occurs. Uncorroborated allegations, however, do not constitute evidence.
“Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides a discretionary power for police to direct trespassers to leave land in certain circumstances. These circumstances relate to the behaviour of the trespassers - i.e. if this were a major public order problem or if there were other aggravating factors - and the number of vehicles on the land.
“The policy of Suffolk Constabulary, as with the rest of the police service in England and Wales, and in line with Government guidelines, is against the routine use of this power, particularly when unauthorised campers are on local authority land. There are alternative provisions within the act that enable the local authority to use their powers, and civil remedies also exist. It is our view that these methods should normally be exhausted before we use our powers, except where there is serious disorder.
“There are several reasons for this. Firstly in applying these powers we are unlikely to arrest all the trespassers, which often include mothers, children and older people. Secondly to remove and impound vehicles will deprive members of the traveller community of anywhere to live. Thirdly the power only relates to vehicles and not other items of property and therefore it is unlikely the site will be cleared – only civil law will have the effect of completely clearing a site.
“Also, people need to bear in mind that prior to civil action there is a requirement to carry out a detailed assessment of the social, welfare and educational needs of the traveller community, and that removal from one site cannot influence their relocation on another site. Such a site may be even more problematic than the original one, and a separate legal process will be required to force eviction.
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“Suffolk Constabulary are committed to working in partnership with the local authority and, where relevant, land owners to keep problems to a minimum. If problems occur we will deal with them, as we deem appropriate, and we are committed to positively police the situation, monitoring on a daily basis and responding to any concerns. “However, the Government considers the travellers’ lifestyle to be a legitimate one, and they enjoy the protection of the law. The police must balance the often-conflicting needs of travellers and local communities within the constraints of the law.”