St Albans travellers talk to us about their experience

PUBLISHED: 15:51 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 03 June 2019

Travellers have pulled up on Bernards Heath, St Albans.

Travellers have pulled up on Bernards Heath, St Albans.

Archant

Caravans arrived on Bernards Heath in St Albans this weekend, causing a stir on social media.

Caravans of Irish travelling community have parked up on Bernards Heath, St Albans.Caravans of Irish travelling community have parked up on Bernards Heath, St Albans.

The travellers arrived on the Sandridge Road stretch of grass on Friday evening.

Negative comments from the public on social media have included allegations of verbal abuse, people using the ground as a toilet and dog walkers feeling unsafe to go on the parkland.

We went down to the Bernards Heath site to see for ourselves.

There were about 42 adults and at least 80 children with new-looking caravans and a few tiny Jack Russell terriers. Rubbish bags were being used to deposit rubbish and we were given a friendly welcome.

Nowhere could we see dog or human faeces.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Helen Campbell has contacted St Albans council on behalf of the public.

The council has confirmed that it is taking legal proceedings to move the families on but could not do so over the weekend, due to the courts being closed.

Travellers by nature live private lives and feel they are misunderstood by most sections of society.

We spoke to a woman called Bridget who was described, together with her husband, as the head of the family.

Bridget said to us that they would probably be leaving the site later today.

She said she feels there is a lot of prejudice towards travellers and that they are not there to cause any trouble.

Bridget said she was happy for us to talk to one of the men on the site and pointed towards a caravan further along the field. Children were playing happily and small dogs were running around.

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A man living on the site, Bernard James McDonagh, who goes by the name James, said: "Firstly, in every community there is good and bad and travellers have a bad name that they don't deserve. How many travellers are in UK prisons?

"The bombings going on are not from travellers.

"Can you tell me what crimes travellers have done in the last 15 years that are so horrendous? We haven't. We have paid our taxes and we work and this is our way of life and it has been for centuries."

James added: "A guy over there yesterday, I don't know his name, but he lives close to here, called us Pikeys and threatened to burn our caravans down. We leave it because when you go out, most of the time we get a lot of abuse.

"But nobody comes onto the site and says anything."

The law states that people who park on land that does not belong to them have to be given notice to leave.

Local authorities have to show that travellers are on the land without consent and look into their general health and welfare and their children's education.

Councils also have to comply with the Human Rights Acts 1998. If they can show a court that they have done that, they may then apply to evict them.

This means serving an initial notice to travellers and then applying to court for a removal order.

This process takes up to five working days to complete.

Cllr Helen Campbell said: "This is a well-loved and well-used community asset and beauty spot which a lot of local residents go to great lengths to look after, together with the council.

"I sympathise hugely with the local residents and others who enjoy the heath.

"The council's parks and green spaces team have visited to assess the situation; in the interests of safety and environmental health, they are already cleaning up parts of the site and will of course undertake a fuller clean-up operation after the travellers have been moved on or leave of their own accord.

"We will be having discussions with local community groups including the Friends of Bernards Heath about options to prevent this reoccurring."

This particular group were previously at Stevenage King George playing field and said they plan to go to North Wales.

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