Travellers face jail if they stay on site.. but judge gives 'immunity from corona and planning laws'
TRAVELLERS could face jail terms if they fail to move off a controversial unauthorised site by Wednesday (March 3).
Basildon Council, which refused to answer questions about the issue, has been looking to prevent vulnerable land from being occupied in the borough after a High Court judge said travellers who have to leave the site off Hovefields Drive, Wickford, should not be prosecuted for any new planning offences or breaching coronavirus regulations if they comply with the deadline.
Judge Anthony Metzer QC ordered around 15 Irish traveller families to leave by Wednesday the green belt site they own that was built without planning permission (or face jail as their residential occupation breaches a High Court injunction.
The top image shows the site under construction in November 2020. But, he added a clause that suggests they would be immune from breaching planning laws or coronavirus restrictions if they were to move onto other, already occupied, caravan pitches.
His order made against around 80 people living on the site at at Hovefields, near Wickford, Essex, on
STAND OFF: Travellers and police on the land during early constriction in November (EN&I)
February 15, said: "It shall not be in the public interest for there to be a prosecution of any of the defendants in relation to any offence committed in contravention of the Coronavirus Regulations, or planning acts as a necessary and direct result of compliance with this order of the court in leaving the land... insofar as it is necessary for them to visit other land to access facilities for drinking, eating and/or washing." Stuart Carruthers, who campaigns for travellers' rights, said some families had already tested the order by pulling caravans onto different parts of the borough. One caravan was towed into the road where council leader Gavin Callaghan lives in Basildon a day after the order was made. Police were called amid claims it was an act of harassment. Rebecca Hawksley, a solicitor representing the travellers, said the man had only tried to see Mr Callaghan as a constituent and police took no further action.
An Essex Police spokeswoman said: "We were made aware of reports of possible harassment in the Langdon Hills area of Basildon at around 12pm on Tuesday February 16.
"Officers spoke with a man seen in the area at the time and we are no longer investigating." On Wednesday evening (February 24), a group with four caravans and other vehicles set up camp on a church-owned car park by the council offices in Basildon town centre. Police visited the occupants on Friday and they were gone by Saturday. Mr Callaghan told the Echo newspaper: "They are travellers that were evicted from Hovefields. "We will be working with them to help find a solution and more suitable and lawful place for them to be." There has been tension between the council and the occupants, ever since the unauthorised site was developed by 100 people over a weekend last November, as revealed by Essex News and Investigations. In an earlier judgement about the controversial site made by in December, Mr Justice David Foxton wrote that when a male and female planning officer went to serve enforcement notices on the occupants while it was being developed, they were chased off by a large group of men after one of them threatened to kick the pair between the legs if they did not leave. The same man, identified in the judgement as one of the defendants Patrick Collins, threatened to bulldoze the home of a neighbour who was filming the development of the site, the judgement said.
But, Ms Hawksley said the families just wanted somewhere permanent to stay. She said: "Despite our arguments with the court, and Court of Appeal, that gypsy families should not be on the roads during the pandemic, and particularly during national lockdown, these arguments have not been acceptable to the courts. "That being the case, it is with regret that our clients have had no alternative, but to take to the roads in the locality to look after their families on the open roads. "Our clients are extremely concerned that they should not cause consternation on the part of the public, but there is simply no alternative in the face of a council who do not have a pragmatic view of the pandemic requirements. "Until such time as the Court of Appeal hears the application, and a variation to the Injunction is made, regrettably our clients are on their own on the road." The police spokeswoman added: "We are aware of the situation involving the site off Hovefields Drive and are liaising with all parties involved."