MORE than 170 police officers worked at a gypsy fair over three days, and more than £5,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on top, The News can reveal.
The 176 officers were moved from their roles across Hampshire to work at the Wickham Horse Fair in May, with additional costs of £5,289 on top of the constabulary’s everyday running costs.
Chief Superintendent Scott Chilton, head of joint operations at Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police, said the numbers were vital to ensuring the event was crime-free.
He said: ‘The travelling community has a right to do it every year and that cannot be stopped. We need to make sure it has a minimal impact on the community.’
The Wickham Horse Fair has run in the town for hundreds of years and is protected by a Royal Charter from King Henry III, dating from 1269. It is the oldest horse fair in the country and sees travellers come from all over to trade horses on May 20.
A Freedom of Information request to Hampshire Constabulary from The News requesting the exact breakdown of officers, time worked and costs for the fair was rejected by the force, which said precise figures could affect public safety at future fairs.
But Chief Supt Chilton confirmed 176 officers were involved in the planning, policing and clear-up of the event, carrying out a range of tasks from office work to street patrols over three days.
Chief Supt Chilton said in previous years there had been serious disorderly conduct – such as in 2014 when a brawl broke out in the street, and a bare-knuckle fight in 2009 – so police were required to protect the safety of the general public, although this year was incident free.
However, these figures have been criticised by some residents who feel the event should be stopped.
One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘These officers have been taken away from Winchester or wherever, leaving people at risk.
‘Does this mean that if there was a burglary or a murder or a mugging elsewhere police would not attend as they are at the fair?
‘Why is it allowed to continue? It should be seriously looked at.’
She said many families leave Wickham while the fair is on, plus businesses have to close, due to the anti-social behaviour.
Vice chairwoman of Wickham Parish Council Sue Roger-Jones said: ‘From our point of view it is part of the village and part of tradition. The police are there in case of an incident and having so many meant their presence stopped family disputes, so this year was a good year.’
The Wickham Horse Fair does not have a designated organiser so costs incurred by the council, police and organisations such as the RSPCA are not claimed back.