Police are doing a ‘better job than last year’ in tackling unauthorised traveller camps, but a senior councillor believes they can still act quicker.
The issue of continued reports of traveller encampments across the town was raised at a full council meeting of Northampton Borough Council on Monday (June 3).
Four caravans and one camper van were parked on the banks of the River Nene opposite the Lakes business park for several days, before being given notice to leave on Thursday. And last month one group set up on Abington Park before moving onto Far Cotton rec.
In a question to deputy leader of the council Phil Larratt, independent councillor Julie Davenport, who represents Delapre and Briar Hill, said: “Is there anything this council can do about the situation with travellers? I think residents feel that the council could be doing more for them, especially at Far Cotton rec where they have been recently. Residents have had the most dreadful four days.”
Responding to the question, Councillor Larratt said: “It’s not actually my portfolio but I fully agree with the councillor. I think it’s fair to say that we have seen much more use of Section 61 powers by the police, and that is to be welcomed. I think they could perhaps use it quicker than they have. I was concerned by what happened at Delapre recently. But they are doing better than they have last year.
“I’ve heard about some of the recent ones. To have travellers on your doorstep is not always welcome.”
In August last year, newly appointed chief constable Nick Adderley said he would carry out a review of how the force handles traveller camps. Where encampments were engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour, the force would ‘bring them to book’.
Police can move travellers on from land using powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. But police cannot legally invoke a Section 61 until a landowner has requested the trespassers to leave.
And Northamptonshire Police says that reports may be harder to deal with late at night or at weekends, when there are fewer local authority staff available to make this request. This would mean that police have no power to invoke Section 61 at these times.
Chief Inspector James Willis, district commander, said: “Northamptonshire Police is committed to working with our partners to provide a proportionate response to unauthorised encampments within the limits that the law currently allows.
“I am pleased that Councillor Larratt has noted and welcomed our increased use of Section 61, and I hope he recognises the strain that this puts on our limited resources. In an ideal world, sufficient target hardening measures and alternative traveller provision would be in place, which would prevent unauthorised encampments occurring the first place and mean we would not have to resort to Section 61 at all.”