THE cat and mouse game between travellers and the authorities took a new twist as 12 caravans moved on to a town centre car park.
The group moved on to Palmers Road car park in Emsworth, a place used by scores of shoppers every day.
Police threatened them with immediate eviction as the site is a busy public place and next to Brook Meadow, a protected nature reserve that is home to rare water voles.
It is the latest in a series of invasions this month which has cost the taxpayer more than £2,000 to pay for court evictions and cleaning up rubbish.
The encampment, which did not pay for parking, was not welcomed by nearby shopkeepers.
One business owner said: ‘The council needs to be more proactive to stop them.
‘It’s wrong. The car park should have barriers where you can’t get that sort of vehicle in there.’
The group came from Bourne Community College in Southbourne, where they had been staying since last week.
Council rangers said West Sussex County Council had given them 30 minutes’ notice and the travellers had to find a place to stop.
Gary Morton, environmental ranger team leader, said police had given a warning under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to evict the travellers.
However, this was not needed as the travellers moved on in the direction of West Sussex at about 4pm yesterday.
He said: ‘We are protecting everything as much as we are able to.’
The latest encampment was dealt with in a matter of hours, but the same group caused disruption after camping near a cycle track off Havant Road, in Emsworth, for almost a fortnight.
Council leader Tony Briggs said: ‘As far as I am concerned the law needs to get to grips with this and give police the power to move them on without having to go through this palaver of going through the courts at great expense to the local taxpayer.
‘The problem is successive governments have pussyfooted round this issue instead of grabbing it by the neck and dealing with it. The time has come when the government needs to take a serious look at this and deal with it once and for all.’
Police are able to move on travellers immediately if there are transit caravan sites locally.
But Cllr Briggs said: ‘At the moment there’s going to be great uproar from the local population. An urban area like Havant is not suitable.’
WHERE THEY’VE BEEN
· Bitterne Park, Leigh Park – play area camped on for six days until court eviction. Concrete barriers have now been installed.
· Barncroft Way, Bedhampton – public land next to Hermitage stream camped on for four days until court eviction.
· Havant Road, Emsworth – busy pedestrian and cycling route by A27 camped on for almost two weeks until court eviction. Police caution 45-year-old man after dog attacks PCSO.
· Bourne Community College – playing fields camped on for seven days.