Surrey Chief Constable's Bulletin
This is a copy of the open letter from Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave QPM, to the Editor of the Surrey Advertiser, regarding unauthorised encampments across the county dated August 2018.
This summer has seen an unprecedented number of unauthorised encampments, no part of the county has been unaffected and as the summer has passed, the amount of ill feeling and anger about a perceived lack of action by police has been palpable.
The disappointing thing is that all of this was predicted and there is a practical solution available that would help. It has been successfully implemented in a number of surrounding counties, but has yet to be implemented in Surrey, leaving the local authorities and police with limited powers to deal with those intent on trespass.
Before I come to that solution, let me make it clear that there are two related but separate issues that need to be addressed. The first is the issue of an unauthorised encampment. This is of itself not a criminal matter and the lead agency for implementing eviction is the local authority, working with the land owner supported where necessary by the police. In this regard, it is absolutely the case that we in the police and our colleagues in the Boroughs and Districts have significantly upped our game this year and now have well-rehearsed and effective procedures for assessing and evicting unauthorised encampments in accordance with the legislation currently available to us. The shortcoming is that under the only legislation that we can utilise, there is nothing to stop those evicted from simply moving 100 yards down the road and setting up camp there. We then have to go through the whole rigmarole again and this is exactly what has happened this year, with repeated encampments as we follow groups round the county, creating further upset and disruption far and wide.
The related issue is that of criminality associated with some encampments. My clear direction to officers is that where there
is criminality and where there is sufficient evidence to take action against identified perpetrators, then we will do so swiftly and firmly. The frustration comes when it is not possible to attribute a criminal act, for example criminal damage, to any one individual due to a lack of witnesses or other evidence to implicate them. This is no different to any other crime. One cannot simply arrest whole groups of people because ‘one of them must have done it’.
So, what else might be done? Under the legislation, if a designated transit site is available, the police are enabled to direct encampments to move immediately to the transit site, with far fewer criteria necessary to act. If those on the encampment refuse, or return to camp unlawfully elsewhere within three months they are liable to immediate arrest. Currently, Surrey has no transit sites and so none of these powers are available.