Bury St Edmunds: Councillor criticises police for not prosecuting travellers for offences

Travellers havenow moved from a field in Symonds Road in Bury St Edmunds.

Travellers havenow moved from a field in Symonds Road in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Archant

A councillor has criticised police for not taking action against some travellers for driving along a footpath - an act which has been deemed “low risk” by the force.

Town councillor Peter Thompson has written an open letter to the chief constable of Suffolk Constabulary Douglas Paxton over unlawful encampments in the Bury area.

The travellers, who have been moving around borough council-owned sites, are currently at Ten Acre Field in Symonds Road on the Moreton Hall estate.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council is due to go to court today to ask for a section 78 order which will give them 24 hours to leave, after which the council can take enforcement action.

While Mr Thompson praised the force for its visible presence, he criticised police in Bury St Edmunds for not prosecuting some travellers accessing their current camp along a long stretch of pavement and cycle path.

T/Superintendent Kim Warner said the police had received calls from concerned residents about vehicles driving along footpaths and, whilst it was an offence and police take the unlawful use of motor vehicles very seriously, in this situation the actions were deemed to be “low risk”.

Mr Thompson said: “This involves heavy vehicles crossing the kerb and grass verge from Symonds Road, Moreton Hall, and driving around 50 metres down a narrow pathway which is boxed in by trees and fencing.”

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He added: “Mr Paxton, will it take a tragic accident before the local force recognises that there is a problem? The current police approach to these associated offences is not in balance between the traveller community and the general population and our local taxpayers deserve an explanation.”

Acknowledging Mr Thompson’s letter, Mr Paxton said: “Suffolk Police is committed to working with our partners and all elements of the community to ensure that Suffolk is a safe place in which to live, work, travel and invest.

“We work closely with partners around the Suffolk Traveller Protocol to ensure that all our actions are lawful, proportionate and fit the circumstances as we know them. Police can only take action to move groups off land in certain circumstances.

“T/Superintendent Kim Warner, Local Policing Commander for West Suffolk, has looked into the matter and reports that the criteria for this action are not met at this time.”

Last night, about 16 caravans, as well as cars and vans, were at Ten Acre Field, which is owned by the borough council.

The travellers moved there around August 1 from a football pitch in Heldhaw Road, Moreton Hall, and before that the group was at Pond Grove Close, also at Moreton Hall.

Kate Delaney, one of the travellers, said they had “no choice” but to access their latest site via the footpath.

“There should be temporary sites in every town for travellers,” she said.

She said they were keeping the area clean and tidy, adding there were no authorised sites in the area for them to move to.

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said the authority was acting “quickly, lawfully and fairly” in dealing with the current unauthorised encampment.

Mr Paxton added: “I would like to reassure local people that whilst the situation remains as it is we will look to engage with all parties whilst dealing robustly with any reports of offences that endanger the local community.”

“Local officers from the Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) are making regular daily visits to the site but we would ask that anyone who has any concerns to contact Suffolk police on 101.”