November 27, 2020 2.37 pm This story is over 42 months old

Police chiefs blame COVID-19 risk for “failed” response to illegal camp

160 officers needed, but the force couldn’t spare them

Lincolnshire Police have said COVID-19 restrictions caused what councillors said was a “failed” response to an illegal traveller camp in Boston.

Travellers occupied an illegal encampment on Woodville Road play park between July 31 and August 5 this year.

They were said to have threatened to “break people’s fingers”, “riot” and “never leave” the site despite being told a vehicle crime officer would be visiting.

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

This is the fourth time an illegal encampment has been set up on the same site in three years.

During a meeting of Boston Town Area Committee (BTAC) on Thursday, Councillor Brian Rush said: “We failed here, didn’t we. We failed to have anyone noticing that those same travellers I believe left Skegness on that day and were on the move.”

Councillors have previously described Lincolnshire police bosses response as a “soft touch”, but praised the local policing efforts during the incident.

Piles of litter were left behind. Photo: Boston Borough Council

Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, Area Commander for East Lincolnshire said: “The COVID-19 restrictions meant that we have been trying to minimise unnecessary contact, which could have meant large amounts of officers having to isolate for periods of two weeks or more.

“There was insufficient immediately available resources to deal with any large-scale disorder.”

It was estimated that there were 80 travellers on the site and that a minimum of 160 police officers would have been needed during the incident.

Chief Superintendent Davison said this would be a 10th of his force and warned that “we could have lost those members of our force for up to two weeks” if they had to self-isolate.

He added officers are in “high demand” and suggested “we should have had a multi-agency decision-making group”. This would mean partners such as the council and police would come to a joint decision around what action to take.

The cleanup operation. | Photo: Boston Borough Council

The play area had to undergo a deep clean after the illegal encampment. Clean-up of the site, officer time and legal fees cost Boston Borough Council £473.69.

Councillors also agree to build a £20,000 fence around the play park to deter travellers.

Councillor Deborah Evans described the fence as “excellent” and said “it’s a really good safety feature as well”.