Force accused of being lenient on travellers following sympathetic tweet

Surrey’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) has defended a tweet from the force that appeared to empathise with travellers despite concerns raised about their criminality. 

Aug 9, 2018
By Joe Shine
David Munro: "They (Surrey Police) deserve all our support in this challenging task."

David Munro said the post, which sparked outrage among Twitter users on Monday (August 6), was an attempt to explain “that the police deal with all sections of the community, settled and travelling, fairly and impartially”. 

However, he admitted that the tweet is “potentially damaging the trust and confidence of the police in those affected”. 

Villagers had complained about children’s scooters being stolen from playgrounds, and shops were forced to close early due to shoplifting after travellers moved onto Long Ditton recreation park on Sunday.  

The Elmbridge Police tweet read: “If we evidence a criminal damage then we would act. But can’t usually. You say upsetting to endure, consider for a second, how upsetting it would be, being uprooted every few days. That’s why we always act in the best interests of all parties with proportionality and legality.” 

The post caused uproar from local residents on Twitter, with a number of users venting their frustration regarding recent interactions with travellers in Surrey.  

One user named @marvspice replied to the tweet saying: “Come on really? I’ve witnessed the kids throwing stones at cars and there are videos of them driving recklessly on the park grounds. Has anybody checked out if their cars are taxed and insured?” 

Mr Munro said the Elmbridge Police tweet did not sufficiently emphasise the need to deal with criminality firmly from wherever it originates and could have given the wrong impression that the force dealt with alleged crimes associated with unauthorised encampments more leniently.  

“That’s certainly the view taken by a number of Surrey residents who have contacted me and the force and I can understand why they think so,” he added. “I had already raised with senior officers in the force the effect that these tweets could (and did) have and asked them to ensure that future communications were more carefully worded. 

“I believe that Surrey Police, in very difficult and sometimes tense situations, have generally acted reasonably and properly in controlling criminality where there is the evidence available, have worked effectively with local councils and other landowners to use their legal powers to evict unauthorised encampments and are making genuine, and in the main, successful efforts to engage with both settled and travelling communities in the area.  

“They deserve all our support in this challenging task. I will continue to monitor the situation and pass on residents’ views to the chief constable and his senior officers.” 

A spokesperson for Surrey Police said: “We are aware that the wording of the tweet on the Elmbridge Beat Twitter account hasn’t been well received. 

“The tweet was intended to be impartial and to encourage both sides of the discussion.  =

“We appreciate the concern it has raised, given the impact unauthorised encampments have had on the county, however we serve all communities equally and will not tolerate discriminatory behaviour.” 

Around 200 travellers and 30 caravans were evicted from Claygate recreation ground in the Elmbridge district on Saturday (August 4) following a stand-off with locals the day before. 

To prevent the vehicles from moving onto the site, several residents from the village attempted to form a blockade, but they eventually gained access later that evening. 

The travellers then moved onto Long Ditton recreation ground, where they set up an unauthorised encampment. They were served with an eviction notice on Wednesday (August 8). 

Earlier this month, Mr Munro said his office had received a number of complaints from residents in different areas of Surrey raising their concerns about the impact of unauthorised encampments and associated criminality.  

“The vast majority of the traveller population are law abiding but if any associated incidents do occur then the police have a duty to respond as they would to any report,” he added. 

The PCC has since written to all MPs and council leaders in Surrey to ask for their support in the provision of transit sites providing temporary stopping places for travellers with proper facilities.  

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