Travellers go back to school
Thursday 21st May 2015
It is once again the time of year when land owners may well find themselves the victim of travellers occupying their land, as they find places to stay en route to the notorious annual Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria on 4 June. The Daily Mail has recently reported on one such a case, where a number of travellers pitched up their vehicles and caravans on a car park at Woodhouse Grove School, a £25,000-a-year boarding school in Apperley Bridge near Bradford. Whilst some might sympathise with the traveller community, these encampments do leave land owners in difficulty.
A similar incident took place at the school last year when a number of travellers also pitched up in the same place for a couple of days while on their way to the annual Appleby Horse Fair. This year, however, the travellers have remained for a number of days and the camp has actually grown, with about 12 caravans and even a horse now camped in the car park. Although students are no doubt enjoying the new-found unusual diversity of the boarding community, the school has said that it is taking legal action to evict the travellers, having made unsuccessful attempts to ask them to leave.
Unfortunately for land owners, travellers know the system very well as they come across it every day of their lives. Despite what a traveller may say, most of the time they will not move on until they are forced to do so.
This is a common problem for land owners, caught between trying to avoid the costs of court action whilst at the same time wanting to clear the site as soon as possible. We have extensive experience of working with landowners, the courts and enforcement agents to manage traveller evictions and there are a number of options available to a land owner in these circumstances, including commencing court proceedings (which usually can be turned around within a week or two). Many clients prefer the less expensive option of instructing agents to use “reasonable force” to evict travellers, although this in itself carries several risks, including criminal liability if agents go beyond the rather ambiguous line of “reasonable force”.
Land owners should take heed from Woodhouse Grove’s experience. It is important that you move quickly, communicating with the travellers but without relying on what they say. Land owners should take legal advice from a team that has experience of dealing with travellers and has the necessary contacts with the courts and the enforcement agents to enable land owners to evict the travellers as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Finally, land owners should try and secure their land wherever possible. The cost of a gate, lock, or a fence can be much cheaper than finding yourself regularly on the receiving end of traveller occupation.
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