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'deeply unfair' Traveller group slams new UK law giving police power to arrest people on 'illegal' halting sites

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Camp in Essex in England

Camp in Essex in England

Camp in Essex in England

A charity that works on behalf of gypsies, Roma and travellers has described new laws aimed at tackling illegal camps across Britain as “deeply unfair”. 

Families, Friends and Travellers have accused the UK’s Home Secretary of working to create laws to imprison and fine families living on roadside camps for the “crime” of having nowhere else to go.

“The Government must do more to identify land for gypsy and traveller people to live and stop placing blame on the very families they have failed,” the spokesperson said.

The Home Office is expected to reveal full details of the changes next week to legislation, included in a forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill, that will speed up the process of removing unauthorised camps.

Under Home Secretary Priti Patel’s tough measures police will be able to arrest anyone suspected of ‘intentional trespass’ and seize their vehicles if they refuse to move on.

Under the proposals, travellers who ignore a landowner’s request to move their vehicles on will face arrest under ‘intentional trespass’ laws carrying a three-month maximum prison sentence or a fine of up to £2,500, or both.

The Home Office source said: “We are delivering on our manifesto commitment to crack down on the blight of unauthorised encampments.

“These camps cause distress and disruption for millions of people right across the country, so it’s right we are giving the police the powers they need to bring this to an end.”

Currently, most cases of trespass are not a criminal offence and unauthorised camps are dealt with as civil matters. Only ‘aggravated trespass’ can lead to arrest, and it is difficult to prove.

It is understood police will be able to use the powers where intruders are causing ‘significant damage, disruption or distress’, such as ‘interference with utility supplies, excessive noise pollution, or litter’.

It will not apply to ‘unintentional instances of trespass, such as by ramblers and walkers’, sources said.

But Families, Friends and Travellers said everybody needs a place to live.

“It is deeply unfair that while the Government is dramatically failing to identify enough land for gypsy and traveller families to live on, the Home Secretary is working to create laws to imprison and fine families living on roadside camps for the “crime” of having nowhere else to go.

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