Traveller Incursions and the Police Response:
· Why did Kent Police not enforce S61 when all three criteria were met?
· Does Kent Police have sufficient resources to carry out this enforcement?
· Is there a contradiction between human rights and S61 of the Criminal Act, could this be explained?
· Why is there inconsistency in the approached taken by metropolitan police, it is my understanding S62 is enforced without question?
1. The Commissioner noted that the question was predominantly focused on operational matters, which were in the remit of the Chief Constable rather than a Commissioner. However, he recognised that this was an issue that caused significant concern in communities and wished to give some reassurance as to the processes in place for Police decision making regarding unlawful encampments. The Commissioner provided a detailed overview to the Panel, based on correspondence from Deputy Chief Constable Paul Brandon:
· Kent Police recognises the need to support local authorities in their lead role of managing unlawful encampments.
· A number of Districts have a local Memorandum of Understanding between the Police and local authority on how unlawful encampments are to be managed. This recognises the nuances pertinent to each District, identifies clear lines of communication and provides clarity about who will perform what function. It is important that these MOUs are kept under regular review.
· Kent Police have recently developed an operational guide for Duty Inspectors, who are key decision makers in respect of when and if Police powers are to be invoked. The purpose of the guide is to ensure consistency in this decision making. The guide includes a decision log and is subject to ongoing review for the duration of the unlawful encampment, to take account of changing information and intelligence.
· The Department for Communities and Local Government looked at the issues in 2015 and were clear that there were sufficient powers for local authorities and the police to take action. Ministers also reminded local councils of the need to act swiftly to stop unauthorised encampments starting in the first place.
· Ownership of the land is the first determination where there are unlawful occupations.
· Once the status or ownership of the land is established, then the powers of that appropriate agency can be used.
· Local authorities have been provided with strong powers to deal with unauthorised encampments. These include Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Public Health Act 1936, Highways Act 1980, Civil Procedure Rules, local bylaws under the Local Government Act 1972 and section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 1994 to quote a few. Local authorities also have a welfare obligation in relation to those individuals who are part of the unlawful encampment.
· The police have powers to direct unauthorised trespasses on land to leave. Sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 give police discretionary powers to direct trespassers to leave and remove any property or vehicles they have with them. This power applies where the senior police officer reasonably believes that two or more people are trespassing on land with the purpose of residing there and that the occupier has taken reasonable steps to ask them to leave.
· An important fact is that the occupier of the land has to have already taken some steps. In addition, police powers were expanded in section 62 to direct both trespassers and travellers to leave the land and remove any vehicles where there is a suitable pitch available elsewhere in the local authority area.
· It is for the land owners in the first instance to seek to deal with the unlawful encampments using the provisions provided to them through statute which will of course include civil actions through the Courts.
2. In addition to providing the operational update, the Commissioner advised the Panel that he had attended meetings with council leaders where the issue was discussed. He commented that Assistant Chief Constable Jo Shiner was preparing an update on the matter which would be discussed at a future Council Leaders and Chief Executives meeting. He also recognised that there were issues around district councils lacking the resources to take appropriate action around protecting open spaces but advised they raise this with the county authority to access support.
3. The Commissioner reassured the Panel that he had noted their concerns and would take them into account when conducting work regarding reviews of powers and guidance.
At previous Police and Crime Panel meetings the Commissioner has outlined his extensive communications and engagement activities. One of these is the public Performance and Delivery Board (previously the Governance Board), which I attended on 7 June 2017 and found very interesting.
I would like to know how effective the Commissioner finds this Board and what plans he has to engage the public further with this Board. It would be useful to know what other PCCs do to engage the public in the governance/holding the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of the police’s priorities and activities and where we can share best practice.
4. The Commissioner advised the Panel that he felt the change from the Governance Board to the Performance and Delivery Board was an improvement. He explained that he was investigating making meetings more accessible by holding them in the evenings and away from Police premises. He explained that he was reviewing practices by other Commissioners and would clarify his plans in due course. The Commissioner advised the Panel that in addition to his formal meetings for holding the Force to account, he also had regular briefings and meetings with the Chief Constable and other Chief Officers on a range of issues.
5. Responding to a supplementary question, the Commissioner recognised that public attendance at the formal meetings was very low but he noted that this was not unusual, referencing local authority meetings across Kent as an example.
RESOLVED that the Commissioner’s responses to questions be noted.