Travellers in the Goring Gap

By chance this local invasion happens at the same time that a new Conservative document Common Sense on Travellers is launched. The policies are:

  • Tackling open breaches of the law by travellers – including trespass, untaxed vehicles,and unleashed dogs
  • A fast-track one-stop legal procedure to streamline evictions
  • Three-month radius bans
  • Withdrawal of income support from travellers subject to eviction orders who refuse to move
  • Greater scrutiny of the educational supervision that travellers’ children receive
  • Making it easier for landowners to gain compensation for damage by travellers
  • Removal of the presumption in planning policy that vacant land near residential areas is suitable for temporary travellers camps.” width=”183″ height=”234″ alt=”The Plantation is shown in dark green, and the three roads to the West of this are where the travellers normally park.” border=”0″ hspace=”10″>
The proposed barriers

The Current Status

Height-restriction barriers and earth ditches and bunds are now in place on the three roads in the Goring Gap.

Recommendations from Arizona

Don Daien sent us an Email from Arizona. It is an international problem. In the United States they are particularly present in the south east where they are known as Irish Travellers and are just as unpopular. He suggests five rules to us for consideration:

1) If they can’t find “work” they won’t come. Status in their culture is based on how financially successful they are as con artists.

2) Educating the community regarding the nature of their scams is the best deterrent.

3) Choosing to deal only with known local residents, contrators and businesses is the best defense.

4) They prey on the vulnerable, often targeting retirement communties in hopes of finding elderly individuals who are living alone. An active community network to help shield these individuals is most appropriate. Coercion, threats and intimidation are the real tools of their “trade”.

5) Preventive measures are to be emphasized as prosecution is rarely
successful. Once cornered, they work out a settlement with their victim in exchange for not pressing charges.

Shall we try all these things here?

The story so far

The travellers were here 9-10 July, 23 June to 7 July, and from 31 May to 10 June 1999. We normally get two visits per year which tend to last ten days. There have been a total of 20 such visits in the last few years. Some of the travellers this year are thought to be those moved on from the Ropetackle site in Shoreham after 17 months effort..

The Goring / Ferring Strategic Gap is designated as a pleasant area of green to separate the massed houses of Worthing and Ferring. It is excellent land for farming. The local communities protect the Gap vociferously against all incursions. We do NOT want the area to become a caravan park for the indigent.

As they are on the roads it is West Sussex County Council (WSCC) Highways Department’s responsibility. The area of greensward between the road and sea is now securely fenced but is Worthing Borough Council (WBC)’s responsibility. If they were on the farm land they would be the responsibility of the farmer, Paul Langmead, or the owner Prowting Projects. Residents say that a some travellers in each group cause all sorts of grief; threatening behaviour, blocking the roads, vandalism, burglary, and leaving behind piles of litter. There is also a health hazard in the disposal of chemical toilets, and fouling of the nearby woods.

This is one of several actual or potential problems in this area which include:

  • Litter
  • Dumping of rubbish and fly-tipping
  • Racing by youths in cars
  • Vandalism, particularly of the toilets at the Plantation
  • Soliciting, particularly by the gay community
  • Threat of parking of coaches from Worthing

A Public Meeting organised by WSCC Councillor Graham Forshaw, supported by representatives from WSCC legal department, WBC, and the Police, was held at The Barn, Field Place, Goring on Friday 20 August, and attracted over 200 angry residents. 2500 leaflets advertising the meeting were distributed in Goring and Ferring by the Ilex Conservation Group, Goring Resident’s Association and the six Neighbourhood Watch Co-Ordinators.

What is the Law

The law says that travellers (a.k.a Gypsies, Pykies) are a recognised ethnic minority and travel the country in search of work. As such they receive special dispensation in that they are allowed to camp for a limited period on suitable open space.

Some years ago the law required county councils to set up permanent spaces for travellers, and allocated funds for these. WSCC set up 12 such sites with a total capacity of 180 families. This was considered to meet the requirements of the law, and WSCC therefore were given permission to move on travellers who camped other than in these spaces.

This sounded like a good idea, but the permanent sites were immediately full, and the families in residence then put down roots, got jobs, put children into local schools, and with greater wealth bought bigger caravans. There is thus no space in the permanent sites for travellers who actually travel.

The bona fide travellers move to actually look for work. In this respect the travellers we get would be eligible. They seem active in double glazing and fitted kitchens. We can tell this from the rubbish they leave behind. And it must be profitable work since they often have new cars, new lorries, new caravans. But their customers locally here tell of bad experience of shoddy work, uncompleted, and over-priced. The smart vans and lorries they drive sometimes bear the name of nationally known companies, who in fact have never heard of the drivers and accept no responsibility for them.

Someone locally employs them. If the local residents would stop employing them the travellers would perhaps move elsewhere in search of work. But they prey on the elderly and gullible.

How to move them on

Groups of travellers, usually about 12 families in number, generally arrive on Friday evening. On Monday the relevant council WSCC or WBC can visit the site, obtain names and vehicle registration numbers, and then obtain an order from the relevant magistrates at Worthing or Arun, to move them on. Other authorities have to be consulted; health, education, social services, police etc. Theoretically they could be moved on by Wednesday, that is within 48 hours, but with one thing and another it normally takes a total of 10 days. They normally go quietly, early in the morning, but the police and large men from the council are usually on hand in case of any problems.

If the due process of law is not followed to the letter, the travellers, who generally know the law better than we do, and also have legal advisers based in Birmingham and in Brighton, can apply for a Judicial Review. It takes six weeks even to get a date for this, let alone get into court, during which time they can stay where they are. So it behoves the authorities to get it right.

The scale of the Problem

There are probably 3500 families in the UK who class themselves as travellers. 400 families at any one time are in Sussex. Every community has a problem with this.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said on a Midlands radio interview during July, and more recently widely quoted:

Many of these so-called travellers seem to think it is perfectly okay for them to cause mayhem in an area: to go burgling, thieving, breaking into vehicles, causing all sorts of trouble

He was immediately branded as racist by the travellers single-issue pressure groups, but the correspondence in the newspaper and comment on TV seems to support his words. He has promised early action to strengthen the police powers.

Why don’t the Police do something

The Police have to follow the guidelines they are given. They are always short of resources and officers have to be allocated according to the day’s immediate priorities. On any given day, officers will be assigned to murders, assaults, armed robbery, burglary and a whole catalogue of other offences against the law. To mount an action against 12 families of travellers, with perhaps 30 tough men and women would require a substantial force. And if they move on, then they will camp two miles down the road and the whole thing has to be done again.

Vehicles will be moved on immediately if seen to be a danger to other road users.

If witnesses can be found to identify individual wrong-doers, then the police will act immediately with the necessary force. It is not often that such witnesses can be found.

But the Chief Constable of Sussex has power to order his officers to move anyone on when parked illegally. Three years ago these powers were invoked at Goring when travellers removed some posts along the greensward and began to set up camp. A substantial number of officers arrived very quickly and waited until the travellers had stopped shouting the yelling and moved on.

What we want is for the Chief Constable to order that Goring, and possibly the whole of Sussex, to be a no-traveller zone. Let them go someplace else. And let the Chief Constables of other counties do the same.

The WSCC Proposals

On the principle that prevention is better than cure, and because of the sensitive nature of the Goring/Ferring Gap, WSCC have proposed a height restriction order with height barriers 6ft 6in high at the three entrances to the area. The barrier at Amberley Drive would be sited to the East of the plantation, and have a combination lock to allow access by the farmer and emergency services. The total cost of this including signs could be about 15,000 pounds. Initial procedures have already been set in motion in the expectation that this plan will be adopted. There have been some objections, not least by the farmer.

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