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Locals blast court ruling to stop Kent council from banning travellers

Furious residents slam High Court ruling which has stripped a Kent council of powers that make it illegal for travellers to set up camp on its land

  • High Court has stripped a Kent council of powers to ban travellers on its land
  • Cantebury City County was granted injunction enabling it to move travellers
  • Trespassers involved in illegal encampments could have faced jail and fines
  • Campaigners supported the ruling, while councillors slammed ‘perverse verdict’

Councillors have blasted the High Court’s ‘perverse’ decision to strip the local authority of powers to ban travellers from camping on its land. 

Last year Canterbury City Council was granted an injunction that enables it to move travellers off council land without first having to go to court. 

Any trespasser involved in illegal encampments would have been found in contempt of court and potentially facing two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. 

But the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic this year forced the local authority to change its approach in order to follow national guidelines. 

Kent Police said they would allow illegal campers to stay on council-owned land provided they did not burn rubbish, drive on footpaths or go to the toilet in the open.

Now the High Court has called the council’s emergency injunctions powers too strict, ruling that they should only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

In a statement, the council said future incursions onto council-owned land will be considered on a ‘case by case’ basis and that ‘appropriate steps will only be taken once enquiries into the circumstances and discussions have taken place’. 

Justice Nicklin’s verdict is likely to give fuel to campaigners who have questioned the use of injunctions by other councils across the country in recent years. 

The Friends Families and Travellers group is delighted that the ‘short-sighted and cruel’ powers will not be granted to Canterbury City Council or other local authorities ‘who cannot demonstrate adequate stopping places’.

Last year Canterbury City Council was granted an injunction that enables it to move travellers off council land without first having to go to court (file photo)

But councillors are dismayed by the decision, which they have furiously denounced as a ‘perverse verdict’ which is ‘upsetting for everyone’. 

Cllr Ashley Clark, who had helped to gain the injunctions, said that local residents ‘just don’t want to tolerate anti-social behaviour’.

Speaking of Justice Nicklin, Clark 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.’

The Canterbury councillor added: ‘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.’

Dozens of sites, including a car park and memorial site, were covered by the ban which the council praised as an effective tool in reducing the number of incidents.  

Now the High Court has called the council’s emergency injunctions powers too strict, ruling that they should only be granted in exceptional circumstances (file photo) 

It had wanted to further extend the injunction by another two years but the authority withdrew its application following Justice Nicklin’s ruling. 

Victoria Gilmore, a policy officer at the Friends Families and Travellers group, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

The High Court ruling decided travellers can only be moved when strictly defined circumstances apply, to the dismay of local councillors.

A spokesman for Canterbury City Council 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.

‘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.’

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