Travellers evicted after causing disruption in Wheathampstead

The travellers in Wheathampstead. Picture: Supplied

The travellers in Wheathampstead. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

The Wheathampstead community came together following the invasion of a group of travellers which resulted in a spate of crimes in the village.

Cars parked on Maltings Drive to block access to the playing field. Picture: Lisa Spottiswoode.

Cars parked on Maltings Drive to block access to the playing field. Picture: Lisa Spottiswoode. - Credit: Archant

The travellers arrived at the recreation ground, a field south of Old School Drive on Friday, June 22, pitching up around 18 caravans alongside 4x4s and other vehicles.

Several of the travellers then moved on to a field near Leasey Bridge Lane, on the Wheathampstead Road towards Harpenden. That Saturday the county council ordered the travellers to leave within 24 hours, but they did not obey.

Cllr Tessa Reason, chair of Wheathampstead Parish Council, said: “A group of travellers with around 18 caravans set up camp at the recreation ground on Friday night. As this was an unlawful incursion, we took immediate action to evict them by alerting the landowners Hertfordshire county council.

“There are legal procedures for dealing with such incursions and these were completed as quickly as the law allows with county council officers working over the weekend.

The travellers on the Wheathampstead playing field. Picture: Sarah Myers

The travellers on the Wheathampstead playing field. Picture: Sarah Myers - Credit: Archant

“We monitored the incursion with their help and that of other partners including Herts Police, whose officers visited the site to talk to the travellers, and St Albans district council.”

The travellers were eventually evicted last Thursday, June 28, but before this time are believed to be responsible for a spate of crimes which took place in Wheathampstead during the week.

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Between June 18-25 six fake £20 notes were used in payment at The Swan in High Street.

At around 3,52pm on June 26, a member of staff at Manor Pharmacy, also in High Street, challenged a group of people who she believed to be shoplifting. An 11-year-old boy in the group, who was of no fixed address, behaved aggressively and she feared he was going to attack her. Police arrested him on suspicion of theft and common assault, and he was dealt with through a Community Resolution.

Police are currently investigating a number of other allegations relating to fraud and theft in the village.

Inspector Jon Roche said: “We are aware of the community’s concerns about the unauthorised encampments in the Wheathampstead and the disruption it has caused.

“Working with our partners we used the powers available to us under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to move caravans on from land in Wheathampstead Road and Old School Drive.

“Section 61 can only be used when certain criteria are met and it must be lawful, necessary and proportionate to the circumstances.

“We also issued a dispersal notice under Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to prevent them from returning to the St Albans area.”

Residents reported parking their cars on Maltings Drive to block access to the adjacent field, preventing the travellers from relocating and setting up camp there.

Cllr Reason said: “There was ultimately a successful outcome in that the travellers agreed to move after legal notices were served on them. They were later escorted out of the district by the police.

“We retook possession of the ground, which we manage, and the county council has since been supervising a clear-up operation. Around a skip-load of rubbish has been recovered.

“Unlawful traveller incursions in our parish are a very rare occurrence and I think the steps we took in this case show that we will not tolerate such activity.

“I know many residents have been worried and angry about the incident, and I can assure them it has been dealt with as swiftly and robustly as possible by all the authorities involved.

“I can assure residents that there are lessons to be learnt which we will be working on. We thank all authorities for their support.”

Wheathampstead district Cllr Annie Brewster said: “I am so incredibly proud of how the Wheathampstead community supported each other through this incredibly difficult week for the village.

“Tonight I heard of a resident who was even prepared to take a day off work to help clear up the squalid mess left behind.

“We are most grateful to county and district council senior officers who worked through the weekend to commence various eviction processes and to the police for working with the landowners to expedite the final departure.”