Responding to illegal Gypsy and Traveller encampments on council land

What should I do if I see Travellers pulling onto a Council owned site such as a park or car park?

Please report any such incidents to the Council immediately by calling the Contact Centre on 0208 770 5000.

Please be ready to provide as much information as possible, such as the name of the park or road where the Travellers are parking, the number of caravans and other vehicles and if possible the registration numbers of vehicles. Do not approach or confront the Travellers, just let us know what you have seen.

Outside normal office hours, the Civic Security desk will take your call and pass the information to the Police and Council officers who will respond when they are on duty.

What action will the Police take?

The Police will attend the location as soon as officers are available. They will establish number of caravans and vehicles present and the names of all Travellers present. The Police will investigate any criminal offences that have been committed in gaining access to the space and any ongoing criminal activity currently in progress.

This information is then used to make an assessment as to whether any police powers should be used to move the Travellers on immediately from the location. However, it must be borne in mind that trespass is not a criminal offence and usually the Police are unable to take immediate enforcement action or make the Travellers move on.

What will the Council do?

If the Police cannot use their powers to move the Travellers on, the Council will start the process to arrange removal. This process usually takes between 2 and 5 working days. The Council has a number of legal requirements it must fulfil before it can move Travellers on. These checks ensure that travelling families’ health and welfare needs are assessed as required by law and protect the Council should issues arise during the process.

Following these checks a decision is made by the Council as to whether the Travellers should remain on site, while further welfare arrangements are made, or if they can be directed to leave.

If it is appropriate to move the Travellers on the Council’s Legal Services will draft enforcement notices. Once served these notices specify the time by which Travellers must leave the site.

What happens if the Travellers do not move on as directed?

If Travellers do not move on by the time and date stated in the legal notice, the Council will instruct bailiffs to enforce the notice. They will use any reasonable means to do so including towing vehicles from the site onto the public highway if necessary. The Police will also attend to prevent a breach of the peace and ensure that the bailiffs are able to carry out the Council’s instructions.

Will the Police or Council prosecute if the law is broken?

The Parks Police regularly visit parks throughout the year and follow up on any reported illegal activity. Anyone found committing crime will be challenged and prosecuted. Traveller families will be treated fairly and in the same way as any other member of the public. Police action will be based on criminal proof and needs to be beyond reasonable doubt.

To take enforcement action for any crime by any person the Police need to have reliable witnesses to the criminal activity. If you see any illegal activity please let the Police know you are willing to make a statement and attend court to enable them to take action.

This is particularly important in dealing with fly-tipping on Council land.

If you see anyone fly-tipping, please inform the Police or the Council immediately. Try to note the registration of any vehicles involved.

The Police can take action if fly-tipping is in progress as this is a criminal activity. If fly-tipping is already on site the Council will arrange investigation of the material and try to identify the source. The Council will arrange to clear away any fly-tipping as soon as practically possible.

Who will tidy up the site when the Travellers have left?

The Council will arrange to clear away rubbish and other remains from site when the Travellers have left.  Depending on the type and amount of material, this may take a few hours, or several days to complete.

What can be done to stop further illegal encampments?

The Council has invested in grass bunds, bollards, vehicle height barriers, stronger gates and barriers and shrouded locks on a number of vulnerable sites to make illegal access more difficult.

However, with more than 420 hectares of open space, numerous car parks and miles of highway and public rights of way in the borough, it is very difficult to secure all access points, especially where those trying to gain access are prepared to cause criminal damage to force entry.

How can I find out what action the Council is taking to deal with an illegal Traveller encampment?

Staff in the Contact Centre can be called on 0208 770 5000 and will have the latest update on any illegal encampment. They will be able to answer most enquiries including giving an indication of when encampments are likely to be moved on. The Council’s website also shows up to date information.

Unfortunately service officers cannot respond to individual enquiries personally due to the volume of calls and because their focus will be on following the process set out above, to ensure illegal encampments are dealt with fairly and promptly to minimise distress and inconvenience for residents while addressing Travellers reasonable needs.