A Harrogate lawyer is backing calls for greater police powers to remove travellers who set up illegal camps.
Chris Luscombe, Director of Luscombe Gray solicitors on Victoria Avenue, is calling for unauthorised traveller camps be made a criminal offence. Currently it is a civil offence, limiting the powers of the local police and forcing a landowner to take their own legal action and to engage a bailiff.
Mr Luscombe successfully helped secure a possession order to evict the group of travellers who had moved their caravans onto private grounds at Crimple Hall, Pannal, last month.
As a business it cost Crimple Hall, £25,000 in legal fees, lost business, theft of stock, damage and additional security on the site.
Locally it has become a growing trend, this land became the latest target in Harrogate for travelling groups. Two unofficial encampments were set up on The Stray earlier in the summer and more recently on Hornbeam Park.
Illegal traveller sites have also previously been set up on land off Crowberry Drive, Jennyfields, and at Oatlands fields.
Now Mr Luscombe is backing calls for North Yorkshire Police to have greater powers to step in and take enforcement action, and for the setting up of unauthorised camps on private land to be made a criminal offence.
Chris Luscombe, Director of Luscombe Gray solicitors, said:
Having these travellers on his land for just four days has cost my client in excess of £25,000.
Over and above vandalism to buildings, loyal customers and staff had to ensure unacceptable levels of abuse, the scale of which left some in tears.
Only swift legal action, in which we successfully argued to a Judge that there were compelling reasons why a possession hearing should be fast-tracked to the following morning, prevented the damage being a lot worse.
The court procedure can be slow –weeks in some cases.
Yet we were able to secure a possession order the day after issuing court proceedings, enabling bailiffs to obtain a writ of possession at the Royal Courts of Justice in London at around 2pm on the same day, and then attend Crimple Hall later in the afternoon.
The damage to Crimple Hall included smashing windows, breaking roofs, and setting fire property – faeces were also left in the carpark
Graham Watson of Crimple Hall said:
It was a difficult time with damage to my stock and threats to my staff.
A lot of my stock was damaged, pots were broken and plants were stolen. When they finally left, they smashed a number of windows causing thousands of pounds more damage.
Although the police did attend, they didn’t take any action to protect my property.
It was 4-days of hell, but I would like to thank my loyal customers for continuing to support us.
Mr Luscombe said a Government review into whether unauthorised traveller camps be made a criminal offence was long-awaited, and would help equip police with more far-reaching powers.
Chris Luscombe said:
As the law stands, bailiffs can remove people without a court order but they can only use reasonable force.
If the travellers refuse to leave, or matters escalate into something more violent, then the police are unable to assist on the basis that this is a civil matter.
The police will only help the bailiffs if there is a court order in place – the fact we were able to secure one really swiftly was crucial to Crimple Hall, as it meant bailiffs had the back-up of the police if needed.
But it’s not always so quick and that’s why, especially for places like Harrogate where we have seen a growing number of travellers setting up camps in the district, it’s important for police to be allowed to take stronger enforcement action from the start.