POLICE have been criticised for telling a council to open up playing fields – so travellers could drive on.
Fareham Borough Council leader Sean Woodward says his staff were ‘ordered’ by officers to let caravans on to Cams Alders playing fields.
The group had been criss-crossing their way across Gosport and Fareham for weeks and on Saturday the council resorted to sending in the bailiffs to get them out of Stubbington.
Police trailed them across town to Palmerston Drive, next to the playing fields, where the caravans blocked the street.
Cllr Woodward says it was at this point police ordered the height restriction barrier to be removed so the travellers could drive on to the fields to turn round.
But instead of leaving they set up camp.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘A group crowded into the road in their caravans and blocked the road.
‘I would have left them to it but the police came along and demanded the council open the height restriction barrier to allow the caravans to go in and turn round.
‘It was the most ridiculous thing.
‘OK, they couldn’t turn round in the road but that’s the police’s problem.
‘The police told the council to open the height restriction barrier which was in place to prevent exactly what was happening and that of course let them on, they didn’t turn round, they moved in.’
He added: ‘How naive can you be?’
Cllr Woodward said if police wanted to clear the highway they should have made the travellers uncouple their caravans from their vehicles and turn them round.
Four caravans had already got onto the site but now there are up to 15 caravans on the playing fields.
The drama began when the group moved from a patch of green in the middle of Holbrook in Gosport late on Friday.
They went to Stubbington recreation ground and on Saturday morning moved to Paddock Green.
Unusually the council immediately employed bailiffs to get them off and by 3pm they were gone.
The council will today begin court action to evict the group from the Cams Alders playing fields.
And Cllr Woodward said he will order an inquiry into what happened on Saturday.
Cllr Woodward said the orders from police have added to the frustrations of dealing with the travellers, adding: ‘I’m sure they (the travellers) are finding it hugely amusing. They moved on with police assistance.
‘They are having a laugh because of the police but at our expense.’
Hampshire police said council officers were not ordered to open the gates, it was ‘a request’.
A spokeswoman for the force said: ‘The issue was the highway there was blocked by all of the caravans.
‘The only way to sort that out was to let them into the ground to turn around and let them out again.
‘There were already caravans on the ground anyway so action will have to be taken to move on ones already there.
‘It was not an order to open the barrier, the council were prepared to open it and it was the most practical solution at the time.’
Travellers leave rubble and an old caravan
THE travellers have been flitting between Titchfield’s Mill Street car park and Fareham Leisure Centre.
There, they left rubbish including builders rubble and even an old caravan for Fareham Borough Council to clean up.
Meanwhile in Gosport, where the group spent a few days in Holbrook last week, the council has put in large boulders and tree trunks bordering all the public open spaces to try and stop a repeat of last week’s encampment.
Deputy leader Councillor Graham Burgess said they were a temporary measure. He added: ‘We’re doing everything possible to stop them getting access to our land in the interests of all the residents of the borough because travellers cost money.
‘We’re being proactive in our enforcement of our green open spaces.’
Councillor Sean Woodward is fighting to have trespass made illegal. At the moment it is a civil matter and local authorities must go through the courts or employ bailiffs to remove them from public land.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘I have taken this up with the Prime Minister directly. Trespass should be made a criminal offence.
‘As soon as they step on public land police would be able to arrest them.’