Unauthorised Encampments (Travellers)

Frequently asked questions about the role of the police in unauthorised encampments

This information will usually come in from members of the public to the Control room.  Officers are asked to attend the location where the arrival of Gypsies or Travellers is occurring or has recently occurred and it appears as though they are setting up an encampment.   

We will establish who the landowner is. If the land is privately owned, the responsibility will primarily rest with the land owner to seek an eviction notice from the court, and to subsequently enforce it.

We will establish whether there are any criminal offences which have taken place and deal appropriately with them. 

If the land is owned by the local authority, we will ensure that they are informed of the unauthorised encampment. Each local authority will have officers who are responsible for dealing with Gypsy and Traveller issues including unlawful encampments. These officers will conduct a needs assessment at an early stage.  This will influence Local authority action in relation to any eviction process. The Local Authority will also ensure that any immediate welfare needs, such as schooling and medical needs are met and provide temporary facilities for the collection of rubbish and sanitary disposal.

The police have powers under Section 61 and Section 62 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994.

Section 61 of the CJPO Act 1994 provides that police can act where:

  • Reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the landowner to ask them to leave

AND

  • Any of those persons has caused damage to the land or to property on the land

OR

  • Used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of their family or an employee or agent of theirs

OR

  • That those persons have between them six or more vehicles on the land,

In these cases the senior officer present MAY direct people to leave the land.

These powers will only be used in exceptional circumstances and where it is immediately evident to the senior officer present that the location of the unauthorised encampment is wholly inappropriate.

  • In these cases the landowner must have made a request for the Gypsies or Travellers to leave prior to any direction or action by police.
  • Examples of such inappropriate sites would be a school playing field during term-time or a recreation ground where the encampment was preventing use of the site and facilities in its entirety by the local population. There is no definitive list and the decision will rest with the senior officer present, normally the duty inspector.
  • The police may determine the period of notice given for the encampment to leave and will provide the encampment with a copy of the notice to leave.

In relation to S62 of the Act, this

  • Provides police with the power to direct trespassers to move themselves and their vehicles and property where a suitable pitch on a relevant site within the local authority area is available. An offence is committed if they return to the area within 3 months. Police may then arrest them under section 62B and seize and remove their vehicles under section 62C.

There is currently only one transit campsites which serves the county of Dorset, excluding Bournemouth and Poole. Therefore police in Dorset cannot use this power (S62) to direct travellers from an unauthorised site within Bournemouth or Poole.

Even where action by police would be lawful under section 61, the police officer making the decision needs to be satisfied that such action is proportionate, justified and legitimate.

In terms of proportionality, a relevant consideration would be who the landowner was. In cases where land is owned by the local council, the local authority are the lead agency with responsibility for the management if unauthorised encampments and have their own powers of eviction under sections 77 and 78 of the Act .

Police should also consider the Human Rights Act 1998 and in particular the following articles: Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 9(freedom of expression of belief) and Article 14 (prohibition on discrimination) when taking action.

The use of police powers to evict travellers from council owned land would not, therefore be proportionate unless the threat posed by the travellers made it unsafe for local authority officers to exercise their duties without fear of harm. In such circumstances the role of police would be to assist the local authority by attending to prevent a breach of the peace.  

Romany and Scottish Gypsies and Irish and Scottish Travellers are recognised ethnic groups under the Equality Act 2010 under the protected characteristic of race.  Many new travellers can also be afforded protection under the Equality Act 2010 under the protected characteristic of religion and belief. 

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for any public authority or a person carrying out a public function of that body to discriminate against anyone with a protected characteristic and has a duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation. 

Therefore officers must not treat members of the Gypsy or Traveller communities in a way that differs from action taken against members of the settled community or it will be unlawful.

Decisions made by police must not be influenced by the views of the local community or other agencies that do not reflect the above Acts, or are influenced by prejudice about the Gypsy or Traveller lifestyle.

The Local Authority must undertake a needs assessment on any Gypsy or Traveller encampment. They should also lead any eviction process and where required, seek the relevant eviction notice resources to enforce any action.

The role of police in such circumstances is to prevent any breach of the peace occurring.

Whilst the local authority is seeking an eviction notice the local Neighbourhood Inspector will ensure that there are regular visits by police to the traveller encampment and to the local community in the vicinity to assess whether there are any specific issues or tensions which police need to address.

Engagement with local councillors and community representatives should also be considered.

There are occasions where a landowner may choose to show tolerance when an unauthorised encampment takes place. In such instances, the role of the police will be to continue to engage with both the traveller and settled communities to ensure that issues and tensions are addressed and to deal with any specific allegations of crime as in any other circumstances.

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