After the travellers

The piles of rubbish left by the travellers have been cleared but not without some damage to grassy areas by the vehicles involved. The damage should be repaired soon.

Meanwhile, council officals have replied to a series of questions put to them by the Friends as follows

We at Lambeth are currently developing a media campaign to promote the responsible disposal of bulky waste; it is often the case that people pay cash in hand to someone to remove rubbish cheaply – which then ends up in our parks; it is all of our responsibility to ensure that waste is collected correctly. This campaign will be jointly promoted across boroughs.

And as you are aware we are currently working with the Friend’s Of Streatham Common and the Streatham South Safer Neighbourhood Team in setting up a Park Watch for Streatham Common. We hope that this will promote reporting of issues, sharing intelligence and also acting as a deterrent to those wanting to use the Common for anti social and/or illegal activities.

The council cannot move Gypsies or Travellers on from council land immediately. In reality the length of stay will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. In Lambeth however, we have a robust procedure to ensure travellers are moved on as quickly as possible; our Parks department work closely with the police and visit all sites reported to them. The police can use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, only if particular circumstances apply and this is often the route we use in Lambeth and so travellers are generally moved within 24 -48hours.

However, we are aware that although we may be able to move groups on quickly the mess that is left behind can be substantial. In answer to the specific questions you have raised:

1. Why are the travellers not prosecuted for fly tipping? – It can be extremely difficult to prosecute fly-tipping offences as UK law (outlined within s.33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990) requires Council’s and other enforcement agencies to obtain specific evidence which outlines the individual/s responsible for the actual deposit of waste material. Information relating to individuals or vehicles present at the time of fly-tipping activity is not sufficient to obtain a successful prosecution in UK law. Fly-tipping prosecutions obtained by Lambeth Council are generally supported by information coming from local communities. Individuals who witness fly-tipping activity are required in the vast majority of cases to provide witness statements which clearly outline the offence and provide Council officers with an opportunity to interview individuals suspected of committing the fly-tipping offence. At this stage the relevant Council officers are seeking to work with local residents to obtain information which may at indicate the origin of the waste material.

2. Or could the vehicles involved be confiscated? We remain unaware of any specific powers which would allow vehicles to be removed immediately in the these circumstances, legislation outlined within the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005 does provide scope for vehicles to be searched/seized in some circumstances, however UK law requires enforcement agencies to seek prior approval from the law courts (seizure warrant etc) where there is specific evidence to suggest that vehicles have been used to commit fly-tipping offences. The approach taken by Lambeth Council has to date focused on the need to remove travellers from the site as quickly as possible.

3. If the answer is that there are no witnesses, isn’t the circumstantial evidence (every time they arrive on this or other Greenspaces, there is substantial fly tipping in the areas they inhabit) sufficient?As previously stated ‘circumstantial’ fly-tipping evidence is unfortunately often regarded by UK courts as either inadmissible or hearsay, the relatively high burden of proof placed on enforcement agencies when dealing with fly-tipping offences requires specific elements to be proved – the main element being that a specific individual/s illegally deposited waste material – prosecutions cannot be secured without this information (who exactly would be prosecuted?).

4. Should local residents try and witness the fly tipping on future occasions? Lambeth Council fully supports efforts made by local residents to work with Council officers to identify those engaged in fly-tipping offences, however there is of course a need to ensure that this is done in the safest possible way. Officers within Lambeth Council’s Parks & Open Spaces department have been tasked with the responsibility of developing mechanisms which allow local residents to report fly-tipping issues quickly – these mechanisms will of course need to provide advice and guidance on what information is required to help the Council to take specific enforcement action.

5. Can the travellers be prosecuted for driving on the Common and churning up the grassland?

The short answer is potentially yes, using legislation for Driving on Common Land or Criminal Damage; however, it will depend upon our identifying a perpetrator and having an address upon which to serve him or her with court papers and witnesses to the acts providing statements. 

6. Can anything be done to prevent the anti-social behaviour of the travellers when they are present? If anti social behaviour is witnessed, then residents or visitors to the parks should be reporting this at the time of the incidents; I would strongly suggest that the police non emergency number 101 is called at the time of the incident or in an emergency 999. These reports can be used then against long term solutions such as injunctions.

7. Prosecution for fly-tipping can take up to six months, the process to follow is:

–          Gather the evidence

–          Take statements of witnesses

–          Confirm details of who did it

–          Interview them under caution

–          Get legal advice on the case

–          Apply for court date (which may be a month or so wait)

–          If they do not turn up, may get adjourned or may be heard in their absence

The fine is up to £20K fine or 6months imprisonment.

All cases that go to court are lengthy, and sometimes gets adjourned several times before it is finally heard. It is very difficult to put a time scale on it.

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