Clarity call over traveller sites

Travellers set up camp during the summer at Drumoak playing field.
Travellers set up camp during the summer at Drumoak playing field.

Police in the North-east have admitted that the force has no powers to move on unauthorised gypsy-traveller camps – and that halting sites alone won’t solve the problem.

In a letter to Scottish Conservative MSP Peter Chapman, Inspector Colin Taylor said there is no legislation that deals specifically with camps “in the modern context”.

Officers have to rely on the 150-year old Trespass (Scotland) Act, but Mr Taylor made clear there is “nothing” within the law that allows police to simply move on trespassers.

Local councils and private landowners have faced difficulties for years with unauthorised camps – often in completely unsuitable areas such as school playing fields – which can result in large clean-up bills. This has also led to growing tension between the travelling and settled communities.

Mr Chapman, a North East Region MSP, said the Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Dundee council areas have all experienced problems, with confusion locally on what powers are available to the authorities.

The MSP said: “It is clear that officers on the ground are not equipped with anything like the powers they need to do what the public generally want to see – which is to move these illegal campers on.

“Furthermore, the Lord Advocate has issued guidelines to procurator fiscals that there is a presumption against prosecution of gypsy-travellers, which I have to say does not make the police job any easier.”

He added: “The admission that halting sites alone will not solve the problem also throws national policy on gypsy-travellers into serious question.

“Councillors have always been told that if they build halting sites, then police will be able to move travellers on, but we are now told that is not a solution in its own right.

“The Scottish Government needs to get a grip of this issue. We cannot have police relying on 150 year-old legislation which does not give officers the powers they need to act decisively.”