Commissioner considers all sides in search for solution to encampments
SURREY’S Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is planning to meet council chiefs to find ‘a longer term solution’ to the issue of unauthorised traveller encampents.
PCC David Munro said he recognised the ‘considerable community tensions’ that recent traveller incursions have caused. But he stressed these should not ‘be used as an excuse for intolerance, discrimination or hate crime towards this community’.
Mr Munro has asked Surrey Police to compile a report on policing issues following recent unauthorised encampments in the county.
He said he always wanted to ‘liaise directly’ with the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers (GRT) community in Surrey.
“I believe the time has come to look at a more coordinated approach to seek a better solution for all communities,” said Mr Munro.
“We have seen a number of unauthorised incursions in Surrey over recent months which have caused considerable community tensions in some areas and put a strain on police resources.
“This can be a complex issue which often causes frustration for all concerned. I have heard from a number of people over the last few weeks about their recent experiences and know unauthorised encampments can cause significant disruption to residents and land owners.”
This summer Surrey has seen groups of travellers move into Staines, Epsom, Cobham, Woking, Send and Farnham, among other places across the county.
Mr Munro said he has written to PCCs to seek their views on the use of short stay transit sites and a review of the legislation governing the balance between travellers’ rights and those of settled communities.
He added: “We must find a more productive path to lessen the impact on our local communities whilst at the same time seeking to meet the needs of the travelling community. There is a delicate balance to strike and I know we are not alone in Surrey in seeking a longerterm solution.
“Conversations about the best way forward need to take place at a national level and I have written to all my fellow PCCs across the country to seek their views and suggestions on how we can take positive steps forward.
“Policing alone cannot provide the complete answer and we must work more closely with local government and national bodies to come up with ways of meeting this challenge.
“I am particularly interested to hear about the use of transit sites that provide appropriate temporary stopping places for travellers with proper facilities, which have worked well in some areas.”
When the Surrey Advertiser spoke to a group of travellers at Abbeyfields in Chertsey, they raised concerns about the online reaction to their presence.
“We were very upset when we saw those comments,” said John (whose real name has been withheld). “It is not fair to judge somebody when you don’t know them.
“The council has simply not built anywhere for us to go – the sites they do offer have a 40-year waiting list.
“We have been going around the area picking up litter just because we know we will be blamed for it.
“The people in this area are going to be our neighbours, we want to get along with them,” he said.
Mr Munro concluded by addressing the issue of discrimination towards the GRT community. He said: “As the national APCC lead for equalities, diversity and human rights issues, I am committed to helping challenge misconceptions around the GRT community.
“One of my primary aims in looking at this issue remains the safeguarding of those who are vulnerable.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that it remains completely unacceptable for any heightened tensions created by unauthorised encampments to be used as an excuse for intolerance, discrimination or hate crime towards this community.”