THURROCK Council are seeking answers from both the Met Police and Essex Police over the illegal encampment of travellers on Belhus Park this weekend.
Cllr Jane Pothecary, the council’s portfolio holder for public protection, is writing to the Met Police Commissioner and the Essex Police Chief Constable to seek details of what happened, when, and what action and communication there was between the two organisations.
In addition, interim chief executive at the council, David Bull, has asked Essex’s Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Mason what action his force is planning regarding the illegal incursion at Belhus Park, Aveley.
Mr Bull said: “The police took action when the travellers invaded the sports ground at Lakeside, although damage was done and the council will be working with the leaseholders to get the pitches back into a usable state as soon as possible.
“However, the police did not use their powers at Belhus. I want to know what is different.”
Mr Bull explained there were three routes for dealing with traveller incursions: the police using what is known as Section 61 power to move them on if it is serious, or if there are dangers; using bailiffs because the incursion is trespass on privately-owned land; or following the court process if the incursion is on public – council-owned – land.
He made it clear to Essex Police the council and the police should stand shoulder-to-shoulder and agree lessons learned to improve co-operative working in future.
Mr Bull added: “As soon as the council was made aware of the likelihood of a traveller incursion on Friday, we started informing people, using social media as well as calling them direct – as well as barricading vulnerable council sites.
“We did try to contact everyone as quickly as possible and that is something we should look at for improvements, as well as investigating whether communication between the two police forces and between the police and ourselves was as efficient as it should have been.”
Cllr Jane Pothecary said: “I am writing to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and Essex Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh asking for assurances that their two forces communicated and co-operated during Friday’s operation to remove travellers from Dagenham.
“I cannot believe the rumours that the Met simply escorted the travellers to the London-Thurrock border and let them go are true.”
She added: “I will also be asking Mr Kavanagh why they used their powers to move the travellers on from the Lakeside site, but did not do so at Belhus Park – it was the same people and the same issues, surely it should have been the same actions?
“There are other issues we need to look at as well. When the travellers were removed from Lakeside, were they followed to Belhus; why were they not prevented from accessing either site; and what powers do the police have to prevent these incursions, for example.
“There has also been much talk of taking out an injunction, but injunctions need to detail exactly what land is involved and exactly who the people are – it is not a generic catch-all. Any injunction we may have had in place would not have prevented this weekend’s incursions.”
She added: “I am also keen that more members look at this situation, so I will be asking the Cleaner, Greener, Safer Overview and Scrutiny Committee to look at it, starting with their meeting this week.”