Dorset Police do an incredible job to keep our community safe. They faces tough budgetary and resource pressures, yet are still able to provide the highest standards of professionalism and dedication, which earns the respect and admiration of residents and visitors alike.
Along with my Dorset Parliamentary colleagues, I do my best to support the Constabulary's endeavours. However, on this occasion I find myself in disagreement with the specific strategy for dealing with the challenges brought about through illegal travellers, who breach security measures and take up unauthorised encampments on a regular basis.
This latest incursion lasted a week with over thirteen large caravans and eighteen vehicles slowly departing Muscliff Park. I have visited the site on a number of occasions - each time receiving a hostile reception. The active youth club on site has had to close down for security reasons and the anti-social behaviour, including the beeping of horns throughout the night is affecting those who need to work during the day. There is of course a clean-up operation to contend with.
The law is very clear. Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 empowers the police to move travellers on if three basic conditions are met:
1) if damage has been caused to property or land;
2) if they have used threatening or abusive behaviour;
3) if there are six vehicles or more involved.
In the case of Muscliff Park it is clear that all of these criteria have been met.
As Bournemouth is an attractive seaside resort, traveller incursions take place on a regular basis. Yet it seems the 'routine' now followed is more likely to involve Section 62 of the Act, which obliges the Council to go through the courts. This process can take over a week; a fact the travellers are well aware of, and they are therefore able to secure a week's 'free stay' in Bournemouth. Some argue this has given the town a reputation within the traveller community and simply encourages further illegal breaches by travellers.
Dorset's Police and Crime Commissioner seems to advocate new laws. This is not supported by the Council, and the Home Office have been very clear this will not happen. Why legislate for more laws when the current law provides the powers being called for?
Related to this is confusion over creating a 'transit camp' to move illegal travellers on at short notice. Most transit sites consist of around twelve pitches and would not be able to accommodate such a large group as the one that broke into Muscliff Park. Police can move travellers to any transit site (in the county) if arrangements are in place. So Bournemouth not having its own transit site is not a significant factor and has no bearing on Section 61 whatsoever.
Whilst the Act itself was written some time ago, fresh Government guidance encourages both the police and councils to 'clamp down quickly on illegal encampments and unauthorised traveller sites.'
We need to follow the examples of other Constabularies and fully leverage the existing powers, as encouraged by both this and the previous Home Secretary.
Understandably, Dorset Police must ensure it works within the law. However, we do need to resolve this challenge in a constructive and professional way. I have therefore invited the Minister for Policing, Branden Lewis MP, to visit Bournemouth in order to clarify the spirit of the Act.
I will also be writing to the Justice Secretary to recommend that County Courts have the power to immediately issue a 'Writ of Possession', so that if the court process has to be followed, it does not take a working week to secure one.
A summary of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 can be found here: