Home Secretary, Priti Patel has visited residents in Thames Valley affected by illegal encampments to hear about their experiences.
Along with Matthew Barber, Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner candidate, the Home Secretary visited Great Western Park in Didcot today (27 April) which has previously seen a number of encampments. Last year earth bunds have been constructed to limit access to land at the approach to the estate, and this has so far acted as a deterrent.
Local MP, David Johnston and councillor Ian Snowdon joined residents to explain how the community had been impacted. Intimidation, criminal damage and antisocial behaviour were all cited by local residents.
In recent days a number of encampments have been set up in Thames Valley, including in Oxford, Didcot and West Berkshire.
In talking to local residents Priti Patel outlined the Government's plans for new legislation set out in the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill. Once passed into law the Bill would create a new offence of residing on land without consent. If a person who resides or intends to reside with a vehicle on land fails to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so and they have caused significant damage, disruption, or distress (including anti-social behaviour) they will be liable to a fine of £2,500 or three months imprisonment.
Matthew Barber said,
"I have made tackling illegal encampments part of my proposed Police & Criminal Justice Plan because I understand the huge impact these encampments can have on communities. Whilst I am committed to working with local authorities to ensure that appropriate transit sites are provided, giving the police adequate powers to deal with this issue is key. Residents reasonably expect the police to be able to take firm but fair action when illegal encampments and associated anti-social behaviour and damage affect their communities.
"I am delighted to see the Government addressing this issue and am determined to work with Thames Valley Police and local authorities to ensure we stand up for local residents across Thames Valley."