Bedfordshire Police could move on unauthorised encampments more often, but only if the local authority has provided somewhere for them to go.
The chief constable, Garry Forsyth told Thursday’s Delivery and Beating Crime Meeting (June 30) that local authorities are the lead agencies responsible for unauthorised encampments.
“The police have a support responsibility, albeit we have powers and legislation that are available to us,” he said.
“One of the powers that we have, which is Section 62, is contingent on the provision of temporary transit sites that we can actually direct travellers to move to.
“Which then mitigates and minimises the impact on the settled community, but provides good facilities for the travelling community,” he said.
He added that this relies on local authorities actually providing the sites.
“What I’ve said [to the councils] is if we could have a transit site then we would be prepared to utilise our Section 62 powers much more frequently than we do at the moment.
“Or Section 61, which we do occasionally use at the moment,” he said.
Section 61 gives police the power to direct an encampment to leave once the landowner has made reasonable steps to remove the occupants, and certain conditions are met.
These are that there must be two or more trespassers on land with the common purpose of residing, and there are six or more vehicles or the encampment has caused damage, disruption or distress.
Sharn Basra, the assistant chief constable, added: “These are people who, sometimes for genuine reasons, move around not just the county, but the country.
“They are entitled to their human rights, equality rights, and privacy, no different to anybody else.
“Our responsibility is always there in terms of supporting and, of course, dealing with any criminality that is caused by anyone in our society, and that includes those visiting.
“We’ve got good processes and plans in place, we’ve got robust mechanisms when we go and inspect the site visits.
“What we’ve got to remember is that [the complaint] can’t just be for an eyesore, or the fact that people don’t like it that there’s people there.
“There has to be some element of damage, disruption, etc., associated with that.” he explained.
“It’s not as simple as, ‘right, go or we are going to enforce [our] powers.
“There has to be some conditions that align to that.
“The police will not take action to remove the trespassers solely due to the size of the encampment, unless there is evidence to suggest etc., etc.
“But at the face of it is that we have to balance the rights of those individuals as well as everyone else in our society.
“But we will deal robustly with any criminality associated with those sites or those individuals,” he said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter