PCC calls for unauthorised Traveller encampments to be criminalised
Surrey’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) is urging the Government to change the law to make setting up unauthorised Traveller and Gypsy encampments a criminal offence.
David Munro believes that criminalising the act of trespass in relation to encampments would give police tougher and more effective powers to deal with them when they appear.
However, he said this must be coupled with a “concerted” effort to provide temporary transit sites for Travellers.
Mr Munro was responding to a Home Office consultation on criminalising the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales.
The consultation, which closed this week, also asked for opinions on amending sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to provide alternative powers to police forces.
Mr Munro, who is the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) national lead for equalities, diversity and human rights, which includes Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, said it was a “complex and challenging issue”.
“Unfortunately, some unauthorised encampments cause misery and disruption to our local communities and put a huge strain on police and local authority resources,” he added.
“In my national APCC role I have sought the views of my fellow PCCs on whether they would welcome trespass being made a criminal offence. Many of them, together with others in the policing community, feel the current law, perhaps with some amendments, is sufficient to deal with unauthorised encampments.
“But having given this serious consideration I have come to a different conclusion. I believe that trespass should be made a criminal offence, and that the legislation around that should be as simple and comprehensive as possible.
“But it must be coupled with a concerted drive to provide temporary transit sites to direct Travellers. I believe many of issues surrounding unauthorised encampments are created by the lack of accommodation provision and shortage of such sites, which I have long been calling for in Surrey and elsewhere.
“Local authorities find it difficult, in the face of understandable local opposition, to provide these on the scale required. So I believe that government should take on the power of direction to compel local authorities to provide these sites.
“We urgently need these changes to prevent the pattern of repeated unauthorised Traveller encampments that continue to affect our local communities and provide our residents with the protection they deserve.”
In 2018, Surrey had an unprecedented number of unauthorised encampments in the county. While that number was reduced last year, Mr Munro has continued to press for the shortage of transit sites and lack of accommodation provision to be addressed. There are currently none in Surrey.