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Surrey PCC renews call for action over Traveller sites


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David Munro warns the risk of moving groups during the COVID-19 outbreak was too high and urged ministers to identify sites.


Moving on: Chiefs do not want officers involved in civil evictions

Date - 29th April 2020
By - Chris Smith

Surrey's Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro renewed his call  after an unauthorised encampment was broken up by Surrey officers this week after reports from residents of crime and anti-social behaviour.

He raised the issue in March this year – and admitted that he was breaking ranks with other PCCs by calling for action.

The annual Traveller caravan count last year recorded a total of 23,125 but there are 300 official sites in England.

The UK Roma and Traveller population is estimated by UK Parliament to be up to 300,000 people. Official research reveals a grim picture of life: death rates are higher and at a lower age compared to the UK average and up to five percent are in prison.

Mr Munro has already backed a Home Office proposal to change the law to make setting up unauthorised traveller encampments a criminal offence.

Criminalising the act of trespass in relation to encampments, which is currently a civil matter, would give police tougher and more effective powers to deal with them when they appear.

The law change is a tricky issue as other campaigners are warning landowners could use the opportunity to roll back the right to roam legislation created to benefit ramblers.

The row over tightening the laws on encampment sites has been going on for over a decade and has centred around the Dale Farm site in Essex. It was made a priority by then-communities secretary Eric Pickles and the start of the consultation process was announced by Sajid Javid when he was Home Secretary.

Other PCCs have not given their support, fearing sites would be placed in their area.

But police officers have made clear tougher laws to move people on will not solve the issue and could potentially tie police officers up with enforcement action which is currently a civil issue. The National Police Chiefs’ Council warned “solutions do not lie with enforcement alone”.

Mr Munro said the solution had to be led by government ministers to compel councils to identify new sites for Travellers to travel to – and highlighted that there are none in Surrey.

He said: “When we are all trying our hardest to restrict unnecessary movement, having no temporary sites to direct travellers too creates the risk that they could be moving from place to place in our communities which is an entirely unsatisfactory situation for everyone.

“I believe many of the issues surrounding unauthorised encampments are created by the lack of temporary sites which I have long been calling for in Surrey. As I have previously said, I believe that government should take on a greater responsibility by compelling local authorities to provide these sites. These changes are urgently needed to break the cycle of repeated unauthorised traveller encampments that continue to affect our local communities.”

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