Claygate residents are well aware of the recent traveller incident on the Recreation Ground. Here is my first hand account of what happened:
At approx. 5pm on Friday 3rd August 2018, I was driving down Church Road towards the Parade when I was halted by a caravan that was right across the road! A young man, accompanied by a boy were opening the gates that lead onto the Claygate Recreation Ground. I dialled 999 as I was telling them to stop but before I knew it I was surrounded, I returned to my car dialling 999 again as I felt so insecure. During that police call I could hear the sirens in the background and a number of local residents had also begun to arrive at the gates.
OVER 200 TRAVELLERS AND 30+ CARAVANS
As far as I could see down the road there was caravan after caravan. Already two caravans and trucks were on the land. Brave residents attempted to prevent further travellers gaining access and the situation got extremely intense. This is a ‘Civil Trespass’ and the police are not the lead agency. Private landlords and local councils are responsible for removing such groups from their land. The role of the police is to keep the peace.
The police superintendent that was present, then informed the local residents that in order to avoid an escalation of the dangerously unpredictable situation, the travellers were to be allowed onto the ground. After an hours stand-off residents eventually complied with police requests and indignantly witnessed over 200 travellers and 30+ caravans, access their recreation ground.
POLICE AND BAILIFFS REMOVE THE TRAVELLERS
As the Claygate Recreation Ground Trust lease the land from EBC, it is, in the eyes of the law, private land therefore a more expedient action was agreed to get them removed. On Saturday morning bailiffs were instructed to come on site and remove the travellers. They arrived at midday but were unsuccessful as the travellers were resisting removal. Their second attempt with increased manpower and support from Surrey Police meant they successfully started removing the travellers and by 8:30pm on Saturday 4th August all the travellers had left our Recreation Ground. Various padlocks were found or borrowed to secure the gates once again.
FANTASTIC WORK BY VOLUNTEERS
The next morning more than 100 volunteers came to help clear the rubbish which was everywhere, even though some clearing up had been done the night before! At one stage a line of volunteers walked across the rec like a police forensic unit. This fantastic effort by the Claygate community meant the recreation ground could be opened again for the residents and by 11:15am the Church Road gate was re-opened by myself so the waste could be collected by EBC contractors.
DAMAGING BUSINESS AND TRAUMATISING RESIDENTS
The impact on the community, the local shops, pubs and restaurants was damaging as there were numerous thefts, businesses had to close and residents were genuinely traumatized. Money has been lost by all these local services and added to that is the cost of the police, welfare checks, court orders and the instruction of the bailiffs.
However the use of the law did not solve the problem as they simply moved a few miles down the road to Long Ditton. Neither is it a cause for celebration as this immensely expensive social problem will not change until the law does. We should be looking to Parliament to do something to protect us all from such threatening and criminal behaviour that currently goes unchallenged.
INTERIM PROTECTIVE INJUNCTION GRANTED
On Thursday 16th August EBC was granted a three month interim protective injunction at the High Court. This order bans the setting up of unauthorised encampments and fly-tipping on over 150 car parks and green spaces within Elmbridge. Officers are also working hard for a longer term proactive solution to this state of affairs, as are all of your Councillors and Surrey police.
This year Elmbridge has sustained large scale fly-tipping and funded the immense cost of clearing it all up. There has been damage to gates and barriers, lost parking income and large increases in the size and number of unauthorised encampments. Since April 2018 there has been a total of 27 encampments on public parks and open spaces, as well as others on privately owned land such as Painshill and the Birds Eye offices in Walton Upon Thames. The impact on our communities (as we witnessed here in Claygate) is substantial, as is the loss of our community facilities.
The Elmbridge Liberal Democrats have written to Dominic Raab MP. I have written to David Munro Police and Crime Commissioner and I also met with Superintendent Any Rundle to express residents very real concerns about this ongoing difficult social issue.