Around 300 travellers have left Roundshaw Park after a three-week operation by Sutton Council and the police to evict them. This follows a catalogue of anti-social behaviour which has caused considerable nuisance to neighbours and to the council.
Sutton Council has a strong track record for moving travellers on within a few days once it has fulfilled its legal duty to carry out welfare checks on children. However, the incursion at Roundshaw Park was more complicated because of the numbers involved - numbers which actually increased over the three weeks.
Because of the high numbers, which included 114 children at one stage, legal advice was for the council to apply for a court order to take possession of the land rather than use the bylaws which are usually effective for smaller numbers. This was supported by the police.
Notices about the court order application were posted around the site and to every caravan last week. The council also deployed its CCTV capability to monitor the site alongside the Safer Parks Police teams who visited the site every day to engage with the travellers and to challenge anti-social behaviour. The Metropolitan Police also used a helicopter to track the travellers’ movements.
A combination of these factors seemed to have unsettled the travellers to the point that they moved off site over two days.
Both the council and the police had to deal with intimidation by some of the Traveller families, which included stones being thrown at council officials and police officers being surrounded in an intimidating manner by large groups of travellers. The council is now assessing the vandalism, such as fly-tipping and fouling, to the park before cleaning it up.
Councillor Jill Whitehead, Liberal Democrat Chair of the council;s Environment and Neighbourhoods Committee, said: “With an unprecedented number of travellers involved, council officers and the police faced a very volatile and intimidating situation. Because of our legal obligation as a local authority to check on the welfare of children, we could just go in and remove them from the site.
“If we did not follow correct processes, including applying for a court order, then we would be open to a legal challenge that could result in compensation for the travellers. This would be simply unacceptable.
“There is no doubt that the behaviour of many of these travellers has been abhorrent. They have left a trail of destruction including broken locks and flytipping and excrement. They have intimidated council officers and the police, and many of our residents have felt quite unsafe in their park.
“Real credit must go to our council officers and the police for handling a volatile situation in a way that moved this unprecedented number of travellers on in a calm and legally-abiding way.
“Now our clean-up operation begins to return the park back to the high standard that our residents expect.”
Sutton Council’s close working relationship with the police helped to tackle the traveller situation in a thorough and legal way, while also avoiding an escalation of the situation. Officers and staff in the Safer Sutton Partnership (SSP), helped to resolve the incident. SSP, a partnership between Sutton Council and Sutton Police, has been in place since 2005.
Sutton Chief Inspector Duncan McMillan said: “Safer Parks Police officers were deployed to good effect and were supported by our Safer Neighbourhoods and Response Team officers.
“We maintained our policing presence throughout to leave the travellers in no doubt that the police and council were progressing a court order to remove them permanently from the site in a way that could not be disputed or reversed.
“Despite this commitment, we have continued to meet our policing obligations to the rest of the borough during this period. I strongly believe that this incident underlines the value to the borough of Sutton’s Parks Police teams and the strength of our partnership working with the council.”
The travellers were able to access Roundshaw Park after the barriers were broken, including locks to three drop-down bollards, a shrouded lock and a mortice lockable cover on the shroud.
In addition to those security measures, the council had also created bunds on the side of the open space that boarders with Croydon as travellers had previously used the tactic of crossing into another borough and returning so that the incident had to be treated as a fresh case with new assessments needed including child welfare.
After they left the site the movements of the travellers was tracked as they dispersed in several different directions towards Croydon, Bromley and Epsom and along the A23 and M23.
Police took details of all the registration numbers are checking those vehicles to see if they have valid insurance.