Published: 06:00, 16 November 2020
Stringent powers allowing a council to ban travellers from setting up encampments on its land are no longer valid, a judge has ruled.
For the past year and a half, Canterbury City Council had been benefitting from possessing an injunction which made it illegal for unauthorised travellers to pitch up on open spaces and car parks across the district.
Thanks to the powers, any trespasser was in contempt of court and potentially faced sanctions, including up to two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
But the council’s “cruel” and “draconian” measures have now been shackled following a ruling by the High Court - much to the delight of the gypsy and traveller community.
Justice Nicklin considered the injunction powers to be too strict and deemed they should be granted only in exceptional matters.
A number of other councils across the country had also been granted such injunctions in recent years but they too have been brought into question.
Canterbury City Council spokesman Rob Davies said: “These cases were recently brought under the control of one judge who has reviewed them all. He concluded that, unless there are strictly defined circumstances bordering on the extreme that would mean an injunction is appropriate, then they should not be granted.
“Along with other councils, the judge felt we did not meet the required level, meaning our injunction and existing orders are no longer valid. We attended court on October 30 to answer the judge’s questions.”
Dozens of sites - including Kingsmead Field, Neptune car park, Herne Bay’s Memorial Park and Beverley Meadow - were covered by the ban, which the council praised as being an effective tool in reducing the number of incidents.
It had wanted to further extend the injunction by another two years but the authority withdrew its application following the judge’s ruling.
Cllr Ashley Clark, who previously helped work on gaining the injunction order, has been left dismayed by the decision.
“I think it’s a perverse verdict,” he said. “I’d like to invite him to take his wig off next time we have mess left behind to come and personally clean it up.
“He may change his mind then when he sees the damage which is done. Last time I cleaned up a site, I collected 24 sacks, including human excrement.
“With the injunction, the number of incursions we had reduced dramatically. But now we’ll have to go back to resorting to the magistrates' courts to get a dispersal order, which are much less effective and take a lot of time.
“Local people are blighted by camps being set up - it’s upsetting for everyone when public spaces are taken over and outrageous when fields or nature reserves are covered in mess.
“Nobody’s got problems with individuals - we just don’t want to tolerate anti-social behaviour.”
In stark contrast, Victoria Gilmore, a policy officer at the Friends Families and Travellers group, is delighted with the outcome.
“These injunctions are a short-sighted and cruel tool used by local authorities to threaten nomadic people with criminal action and to force families out of the area,” she said.
“We are pleased to see that it is increasingly clear that injunctions will not be granted to local authorities who cannot demonstrate adequate stopping places.”
Council spokesman Mr Davies continued: “Our approach has always been to take a firm but fair approach to encampments.
“We consistently meet the legal duty to carry out welfare checks, stay in close communication with the people involved regarding their plans to move on and initiate legal proceedings, when appropriate, as quickly as possible. We always move to open discussions and if necessary seek to take action as quickly as the law allows.
“This approach will continue, but it should always be remembered that these cases would be far easier to deal with if rubbish is cleared away at the end of an encampment and the anti-social behaviour and damage we have seen during some previous incidents did not occur.”