Meeting with Chief Constable
Updated 15th August 2012
On August 7th I organised a meeting at Police Headquarters with Sussex Deputy Chief Constable Giles York and local police officers. It was attended by Leader of Adur Council Neil Parkin; Leader of Worthing Council Paul Yallop; Chairman of Lancing Parish Council Ann Bridges; Worthing Cabinet member Cllr Tom Wye; Adur Cabinet member and County Councillor Dave Simmons; and Adur/Worthing strategic director John Mitchell. I called the meeting to explore the way the police and council had handled the recent incursions by travellers at familiar locations in Southwick, Lancing Beach Green; Worthing Rotary Cricket Ground and Northbrook College playground in Durrington.
We raised a number of questions as to why so many travellers had been able to access these sites; why they had not been moved on earlier and why no prosecutions had taken place given the damage that had been caused. It was agreed that Adur and Worthing had become something of a summer ‘destination of choice’ for certain groups of travellers and it was thought that some of those arriving this year were the same individuals who had caused a nuisance over an extended period last year. It was agreed that the response this year had been better than last summer and that more information had been made available to local residents through the Council and Police websites but much more needed to be done if we are to avoid a repeat performance next year and yet more expense of clear-up and legal action, which ultimately and unfairly falls on the council taxpayers. It is helpful that a 6 year restriction on travellers returning to these sites had been secured through the courts so that any future incursions can be terminated more speedily.
It was also agreed that local sites were effectively undependable from a physical perspective. A lot of work to reinforce entrances and extend bunding had taken place since last summer but that did not stop the travellers accessing the Rotary Crocket Ground by removing whole fence panels on Hill Barn Lane or reaching Lancing Beach Green over the shingle beach for example. More needed to be done to deter the travellers arriving in Adur and Worthing in the first place and more actively ‘disrupt’ and shorten their stay once they had occupied a site illegally. Talks are also taking place with West Sussex County Council about the provision of more transit sites around the County which makes it easier for the police to move on travellers where they are camped inappropriately. It was also noted that there is less of a problem in East Sussex where the Council have been more proactive though the situation in the City of Brighton & Hove is particularly worrying given a change of policy by the Council there. I also raised the implications of the Human Rights Act and the way that travellers are apparently able to take advantage of some of the provisions there which the Conservative part of the Coalition Government at least is determined to change.
A number of practical suggestions were made and the Police agreed to take these away and look at them before making a formal response to take forward in the joint working group with local councils. They included:
* How we ascertain whether these are all genuine ‘travellers’ who do not have fixed homes elsewhere but choose to move down to Sussex over the summer months.
* How rigorously all registration numbers of vehicles are checked to see if they are legally registered and to what addresses.
* How more can be done to promote an ‘early warning system’ when travellers first appear to take early action to block access to vulnerable sites, perhaps involving a ‘hotline’ system for residents.
* Why towing vehicles are allowed off-site from illegal encampments during the day and monitoring of the ‘trades’ they may be pursuing.
* Why there have been no prosecutions to date for any damage done to the sites involved through forced entry or subsequent acts such as fly-tipping and whether there could be greater use of CCTV at the sites.
After responses to these initial discussions it was agreed that the group would come together again within the next 3 months and I will post further reports on this website. Adur and Worthing Councils are also considering taking civil legal action to recover some of the costs involved with the damage caused.