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Fury at travellers’ police escort from Staffordshire to Black Country

By Gurdip Thandi | Willenhall | Crime | Published:

Travellers who have made residents’ lives a “nightmare” after setting up camp on school fields were escorted into the town by a neighbouring county’s police, it has emerged.

Travellers who had broken into school playing fields in New Invention started a bonfire

Residents living near New Invention Junior School’s fields said they felt like “prisoners in their own homes” for days after the group arrived on Monday.

The incursion was finally moved on from the pitches, only for the group to then turn up at Walsall Council-run Holland Park in Brownhills on Thursday night.

Council bosses are furious after discovering Staffordshire Police used special Section 61 powers to move the travellers out of Great Wyrley – where they had allegedly caused criminal damage – and into the West Midlands.

Leader Mike Bird and cabinet member Garry Perry have written to the police chiefs in both forces demanding answers on why they were escorted to Walsall and why West Midlands did not use similar powers to Staffordshire to move them quickly as trouble escalated.

A traveller incursion on New Invention Junior School playing fields. Photo: Councillor Adam Hicken

Eyewitnesses said they saw police watching on as the travellers broke locks to the playing fields before moving inside.

But Staffordshire Police said the patrol escort car lost the convoy after getting caught in roadworks and most of the group was already in the playing fields by the time they caught up with them.

The force is carrying out a review into the incident.

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Once on the playing fields, the travellers reportedly destroyed an orchard planted by New Invention Junior School pupils before Christmas.

Residents said the group had been reported to police for theft, lighting bonfires, trespass, urinating on property, defecating in the field, causing noise disturbance into the night.

They said they were very disappointed with the slow response by the police to deal with the group.

'It made me want to leave the area'

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One, who did not wish to be named, said: “It has been horrendous. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.

“They’ve been seen climbing over walls, getting into people’s gardens, stealing things, starting fires and they’ve destroyed the fruit trees the school children planted.

“No one should have to live like this. In fact, it made me want to leave the area.”

Another resident said: “It has been a nightmare. I’ve basically been awake for a week because we’ve all been on tenterhooks.

“We had to be on our guard all the time. It’s like being a prisoner in your own home because you are frightened to go out. There is a general feeling of unease in our own property.”

West Midlands Police said officers had been monitoring the situation in New Invention and used the Section 61 powers when it was proportionate to do so on Thursday.

A spokesman added they were aware the travellers had moved to Brownhills and said: “We continually assess the information we have to see whether the use of a Section 61 is appropriate based upon an assessment of its legality, necessity and proportionality.”

Review

Superintendent Tom Chisholm, Head of Neighbourhood for Staffordshire Police, said: “Following a number of complaints and allegations of criminal damage and the use of police powers to remove trespassers on land, officers from Staffordshire Police were escorting a group of travellers from the Great Wyrley area out of the county towards the West Midlands.

“During mid-convoy, in Essington, the police vehicle was held up at roadworks and the majority of the travellers’ vehicles continued ahead.

“The officers were alerted by a member of the public who reported seeing someone drilling off a lock on a gate and the travellers moving onto fields.

“On arrival, the majority of the vehicles were already on the fields.

“We will be reviewing the chronology of events to establish if we can improve our response in the future.”

Councillor Bird said: “I am just flabbergasted that we seem to be operating different rules for the police in South Staffs and Walsall.

“I can’t believe they chaperoned them from Cannock to us. We have called for an inquiry into this.”

Councillor Perry added: “If the use of the power has to be proportionate to the level of antisocial behaviour, it was soon clear that problems were escalating and should not have taken as long to get to this position .

“Whilst I am grateful questions remain for future lessons.”

Willenhall North ward councillor Adam Hicken said: “This needs urgently investigating to find out why Staffordshire Police were escorting travellers away from their area and towards the West Midlands.”

Gurdip Thandi

By Gurdip Thandi
@Gurdo

Local Democracy Reporter covering Walsall.

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