The Travelling People
I had some Irish visitors recently. And they were not family or old friends, either.
They arrived in ten caravans and set up camp on my land at Junction 24 and there they stayed until, eventually, the police mustered enough manpower to move them off.
After which, of course, there was the usual chore of cleaning up after them, assessing the damage they had caused, and taking what steps we could to prevent them calling in again – not an easy matter with a site like that which is open to public access.
But why, as a landowner, should I have to continue putting up with this nonsense?
If someone in a private house in an ordinary street got up one morning, opened the curtains and found travellers had taken up residence in the back garden, there would be an outcry.
The full force of the criminal and civil laws would be invoked and the situation would be speedily resolved.
Farmers, on the other hand, are supposed to accept illegal occupation of their land for as long as it suits the illegal occupants, while the police shrug their shoulders and remain reluctant to use the powers which are readily available to them under the Public Order Act to end trespass.
Other countries don't seem to have the same supine attitude to travellers, tinkers or whatever itinerants care to style themselves. In Ireland, ironically, there is zero tolerance.
The French have recently given us some useful lessons in how to deal with illegal encampments.
But since the notorious Battle of the Beanfield in Wiltshire in 1985, after which police were found guilty of wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage, the constabulary appears to want as little as possible to do with illegal occupations.
Farmers are all too often warned not to take the law into their own hands because of the rights of the unwanted guests.
Do these rights, I wonder, extend to causing me £20,000 losses by breaking into a water supply, as recently happened?
Sadly these people have no conscience – but they are no fools and know plenty about the law.
That's why, on occasions, I have been offered the chance to wave goodbye to them for £200 worth of diesel, which they know to be a far better option than spending £2,000 to obtain an injunction.
The indisputable fact is that criminal damage, theft and vandalism follow travellers round wherever they go. They have no respect for the rights of anyone else. What they want, they take.
It's all part of the same culture that is increasingly plaguing farmers these days and which is leading to incidents like that of the Leicestershire couple who shot a couple of masked intruders who tried to burgle their home.
It is a matter of regret when anyone gets injured. But if incidents like this send a message to a certain section of the community that property owners have a right to use reasonable force to defend themselves and that if they do the law will generally be on their side, we may start to see a decline in the levels of lawlessness which have plagued the countryside for far too long.
Derek Mead is an entrepreneur dairy farmer from Weston-super-Mare.
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