September 28, 2020 2.48 pm This story is over 43 months old

Councillors lash out at “soft touch” police over travellers site withdrawal

Police didn’t have the resources to evict them

Councillors in Boston have hit out at “soft touch” police bosses after no extra officers were put in place to tackle a “terrifying traveller invasion”.

The occupiers of an illegal encampment on Woodville Road play park between July 31 and August 5 2020 were reported to have threatened to “break people’s fingers”, “riot” and “never leave” the site after being told a vehicle crime officer would be visiting.

It led to a police decision to withdraw from the site until the case went to court because the force “did not have adequate resources at that time to deal with large disorder”.

It was the fourth time an illegal encampment had been set up on the site in three years and police recorded 13 incidents across the weekend including allegations of theft, verbal threats, quad bike riding, criminal damage and attempts to scam local businesses.

Councillors praised local officers for their support, but were critical of police bosses’ decision to withdraw.

The play area had to undergo a deep clean after the illegal encampment picked up and left. Photo: Boston Borough Council

Councillor Marin Griggs said: “If you show you a soft touch, they will just keep coming back.”

“I find it extremely disappointing that the local residents were essentially being terrorised and the police basically said ‘oh well, they’re being a bit naughty, but we’re scared of them,’ is what it feels like.”

Councillor Stephen Woodliffe said there was “a big question to ask from senior officers way away in Lincoln, hiding away in Nettleham.”

“I’m very disappointed to say they simply wash their hands of us because they couldn’t organise a proper response,” he said.

“We need to call them to account […] for not providing Boston with the support which we are entitled to.”

Councillor Alan Ball said he was “totally appalled we didn’t get the police protection”.

Some of the equipment had been used as a make-shift toilet, the council said. Photo: Boston Borough Council

The incident was the fourth time an illegal encampment had been set up on the site in three years.

The travellers moved between Sutton on Sea, Skegness, Boston and Lincoln in a matter of weeks.

Councillor Anne Dorrian described the threats to the council officers as “horrific” and “extremely traumatic”.

Councillor Brian Rush read out a letter from a nearby resident who said travellers set up shop on the site “year-in-year-out” but that this was “the worst as yet to stay there.”

“Most of us don’t actually live near the park, but this gentleman does and he said it was a terrifying experience,” he said.

Photo: Boston Borough Council

Members agreed to fund a £20,000 steel fence to protect the play area in the future.

However, others called for more than just the fence to be looked at, including providing more sites specifically for travellers to stay on, further security and CCTV.

“They’re not going to go away, they’re not going to leave, they’ve been around since the day of the first dawn, and they do make an awful mess,” said Councillor Rush.

“However, unless we provide an amenity for them to be looked after or to have somewhere that they can go as a stopover, then they will continue to invade our parks.”

A spokesman for the police said officers had worked with the council throughout the incident and supported officers in dealing with issues.

They said they attended on several occasions and that all the reported crimes, including an allegation by the travellers themselves that someone had firebombed their caravan, had been proportionately investigated.

Chief Superintendent Chris Davison said:  “An inspector was asked to consider powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

“At that time, the inspector, using all the information at his disposal, made the decision that we did not have sufficient available resources to evict the camp using this legislation.

“We are always keen to work with our colleagues to tackle anti-social behaviour, but we must also balance that with the availability of our resources and other incidents of high risk which may be occurring in the force area.

“We are reviewing our guidance to officers in how to deal with illegal encampments, and we remain committed to working with partners to prevent future incidents of anti-social behaviour.”