Monday, 19 August 2013

Traveller Blues

Last month a family of travellers broke the padlock on the gate and moved onto my bit of field by the Towpath, which has beehives, the Tree Wardens’ tree nursery and Clive the tree surgeon’s log and chip pile on it, plus a young orchard and a load of wildlife. They were there from a house in Hartley Wintney, ostensibly for their daughter’s wedding but it turned out to be just a free campsite and dumping ground.

Below is the email correspondence about it. I hated feeling like a powerless victim, and it helped to get some much valued communal support.  The police were also helpful throughout.
The story about it was on the front page of the Surrey Herald –
(Please note that I didn’t ‘appeal for calm’, or ‘offer an olive branch’, actually I was seething inside, but I knew about, and wanted to avoid the terrible consequences of making enemies of them. And I said it was ‘a strange experience’ talking to people who you knew were lying to you, because there is no communication happening, and societies without communication fall apart.)

 The main problem was the hordes of other travellers that descended with trucks. They were the ones doing the dumping and trashing. The photo in the paper looked quite innocuous. This photo was more typical -
Trucks and pickups arriving at dusk
I hung onto the rubbish bags Susan had bagged up because I knew they wouldn’t have taken them to the dump as she said they would. They would probably have ended up in Dockett Eddy Lane the moment they left. My son and I went through them all sorting recycling, food for compost and rubbish into our bins, which was a bit grim with the maggots, but it was an interesting anthropological exercise. Apart from the rubbish which was much the same as ours, there was a load of Foster’s, Red Bull and Pepsi Max tins in there, which explained a lot. There were loads of little childrens plastic toys around the site, rather like our back garden in fact.
The ‘green waste’ we saw turned out to be disguising a load of builder’s rubbish and rubble. That would have ended up on Dockett Eddy Lane too, as it has in the past. My stepladder’s gone, along with other things like several pairs of secateurs used for coppicing, and they tried to steal our Tree Warden’s trailer, luckily Clive the tree surgeon rescued it and brought it back to our house, after a brief altercation. Along the towpath there had also been an attempted break-in to a barn, stolen life rings and apparently thefts from houseboats.

Another depression was the trashing of some of the young fruit trees in our new orchard. The travellers, despite the romantic view* of them as connected with nature and the open air, were as disconnected from nature as most other people. They were scared stiff of the grass snake I mentioned  that was nesting in the tree nursery. Their time there was a good opportunity to spread the word about the 55% decline in the UK of wildlife, honeybee and other major insect pollinators of our food, due to loss of habitat in garden ecosystems: paved car parking space in the front, and barbeque patios in the back. Here are my grandsons hunting for water boatmen with Clayton, Susan’s son, who she said was autistic and didn’t come out of the house normally, but had enjoyed being out in the open.

Nature Studies: Clayton and the boys finding water boatmen in the boat
It was interesting to meet people from a different world. It was interesting to see the similarities between us and them, as well as the differences. It may be distressing being lied to and stolen from and having what you value trashed, but it’s not that unfamiliar. I have had those things done to me many times including by at least two members of my family.

I don’t look up to, or down on people, so I couldn’t go along with the ‘scum of the earth’ view of them, no matter how scummy their actions. Like anyone who isn’t one of them, and a landowner to boot, I was evidently ‘scum of the earth’ to them (as were Irish travellers and New Age travellers by the way). I was painting the house and wearing painty shorts when I saw them, and they said I was an artist and must have lots of money. I said I was painting the house – if I had lots of money I would pay someone else to do it wouldn’t I?

One asked if he could keep horses on the land, until I explained that my bit only went up to the ditch and up the fence, that horses would eat the young trees and the willow coppice, and that bees and horses don’t mix either. I hope he accepted that, because horses have been put there twice before.

The Burden of Land Ownership
At the back of my mind during this time was the thought that the landowner of most of the Ranges, who I had declined to sell my bit of land to, might be behind the travellers’ occupation. This email, where he is probably pretending to be someone else, (one of a series of vaguely threatening emails which I will post one day) gives a clue: 

From: clarkekeig@
Subject: RE: Willow coppicing -thank you
Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2010 16:54:12 +0000
You where spotted trespassing on the Ranges over the weekend this is a criminal offence and must stop forthwith.
Imagine 35 gypsies camping on your land next weekend I am sure that would not please you

Regards Clarke 

Funnily enough, the landowner -real name Mel- appeared with his henchmen the following Thursday after the Sunday they had left, in the 10 minute gap when the gate was unlocked between the Tree Wardens leaving and me leaving, as I was watering trees and putting things away. My heart sank as their giant black 4WD Range Rover slunk in. It looked identical to the traveller family’s car. They said they were checking their boundaries. Mel lives in Florida, I haven’t seen him for years, but he said he was over for a few days, and had passed by the week before and thought they were friends of mine camping there. Course he did. Like the travellers, he always found it difficult to be straight with me. [He has sold the land now 2015]

The whole experience has been a lesson in how to avoid getting complacent and taking things for granted, like trust. The padlock is insanely heavy and a real pain to keep locking up. But I’m fairly sure that a combination of the lock and hopefully not making enemies, it wont happen again. Anyway, here’s the email correspondence, beginning at the bottom:

From: Sally Fletcher/Pemberton []
Sent: 14 July 2013 22:39

Subject: Re: Traveller incursion update - they've gone!

The travellers left around 7.30 this evening, in amicable mood and with rubbish bagged up as agreed. So as the police said, the chain and padlock idea, along with other suggestions like blocks of concrete  or a trench in the entrance, wouldn’t have been a good idea.

The police were limited in their powers to evict because of it being on private land, but would have done by Tuesday if necessary. They have been very helpful with negotiating and liaising, and supportive throughout.

Have put a heavy duty lock and chain on the gate, and we’re just about to open a celebration bottle of wine...

Ps the wedding was completely fictitious

From: crispin
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2013 17:43:43 +0100

Subject: Re: Traveller incursion - update

What if we were to get a very substantial chain and padlock and relock the gate and then alert the Police that we suspect a crime is about to be committed (i.e. criminal damage in removing chain and padlock). Would they come and watch the gate 24/7 then and thereby force negotiation?
I must say that I am baffled as to why the Police didn't move them straight on before they took up residence, which the Police are empowered to do. This is a question that should be directed to the council (who pay the Police) to ask them directly what reason they have for this inaction.


Praemitto ex meus Pomum iPhone

On 12 Jul 2013, at 17:22, Gill W  wrote:

Hi All

I'm so glad the police have advised against your proposed action tonight, I was just about to come down and advise against it.  There is absolutely no point in getting yourself hurt and I am sure that would have been the result.

If we all have to get together and sort things out once they have left then so be it - everyone is welcome to come along to Paxmead to work out a plan of action for the future and to make any plans to put right any wrongs that have been done. I'm not defending the action of the travellers in any way but know of old what damage can be done in these situations.

Please don't let this escalate into visits to the hospital.

Best Wishes
Paxmead Warden

Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2013 12:24:48 +0100
Subject: Traveller incursion - update

Traveller incursion - update Accompanied by the police this morning, I have just made a formal request to the travellers to leave, and made a statement to start the court order process rolling, if they haven’t left by Sunday after their daughter’s (not big fat) wedding on Saturday.

PC Mitchell strongly advised against parking my truck in the entrance because it would be interpreted as confrontational. He said that they were more good natured than some he has encountered, though of course he didn’t believe most of what  they  said. Including that the other travellers that have come in the evenings wouldn’t be back tonight and tomorrow.
So lock everything up folks. However the police will be regularly patrolling, including Reed Place and other vulnerable spots.

Everone who has contacted the police has been told that I gave them permission to be there. As I said in my statement and below, I have not given them permission for anything. I have done everything I can at this stage, and am just about to go and buy an extra strong lock.

Thank you everyone who has responded for your support and advice, it is much appreciated


From: Sally Fletcher/Pemberton []
Sent: 12 July 2013 05:32
Traveller incursion - update

All -
Apparently the Council are obliged to act *if there is enough public outrage about the traveller incursion. Well there is. I have had enough reports of attempted break-ins, noise, sleepless nights, fear and stress to make it worth contacting the council and using people power.
Please note that I did not give permission for the travellers to stay on the land. I asked when they were going, and Susan Lamb, the only one I have been talking to, said Sunday at the latest. This was taken as implicit acceptance by me.  I explained to Susan and she understood that the land is not appropriate for people because it is an Apiary and a Tree Nursery, where bees can live without upsetting people.

Despite the lies and broken agreements, and the trashing of numerous things, I am still very keen to avoid confrontation, not because I am nice but because I know the dire consequences of making enemies of these guys.
So to avoid the influx of vehicles of the last three nights, and any more rubbish dumping, I am planning to park and be with my truck in the entrance today (Friday). Matt Hardy from across the river will hopefully photograph/ film what happens. I would appreciate any company/support/coffee anyone can muster.
I was meant to be painting the house this week.... what a nightmare

[* there is no such obligation I found out from Spelthorne’s solicitor]

From: Sally Fletcher/Pemberton []
Sent: 09 July 2013 23:25
Traveller incursion

You have probably seen by now that travellers have broken the lock and gone onto my field. I have liased with them through the police, and they have assured me that they will be gone tomorrow (Wed) afternoon. They also said they wouldn't leave a mess or light any fires. Yes well....

Clive Cummings the tree surgeon who stores logs and mulch on the land has been threatened by them. I have been advised not to approach them without police escort, and I would advise caution if contacting them.

If they don't go, a court order enforced by bailiffs is the only option which is very slow and expensive. Does anyone have any experience of this situation or advice to offer?

Yours gloomily

Sally Pemberton
* The romantic view

The Romantic View: from Poems for Children by Rachel Field