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Background Info

Scottish Government Guidelines for managing unauthorised camping by gypsies/travellers in Scotland

The above guidelines are the basis for all police and local authority guidelines throughout Scotland regarding the issue of gypsies/travellers encampment. I question whether these guidelines are sufficiently robust and balanced and that the intent of them has been applied fairly and evenly across Scotland for all citizens.

The role of the police and local authorities regarding their approach to encampments is fully explained with regard to Gypsies/Travellers. However there is a staggering lack of clarity for the following:

• Insufficient information addressing the concerns of settled communities who are dealing with Gypsy/Traveller encampments
• What help, support, advice and guidance can be offered to the settled communities or private landowners when encampments encroach on their daily lives?
• Clear definitions of roles of police and local authorities towards settled communities and private landowners
• These guidelines should be far more inclusive of both communities and should not appear to be only concerned with Gypsies/Travellers
• They lack fair and balanced safeguards – public interest is the only real safeguard mentioned currently.  The definition and parameters of ‘public interest’ requires to be more fully expressed’
• Both communities have issues but the guidelines fail to address this fact; acknowledgement of this and advice on conflict resolution would be helpful’
• Because the guidelines lack this inclusiveness they actually hinder trust, communication and conflict resolution; by addressing this issue trust and respect can be rebuilt between the communities.

The type of concerns which both communities have must be honestly and forthrightly expressed.  By failing to address these issues fully and in a balanced way within the above-mentioned guidelines, the impression is given that the concerns of Gypsies/Travellers take precedence.

• Lack of police action on harassment towards both communities
• Use of unsuitable sites for encampments e.g. beside leisure areas and playing fields etc
• Lack of action against anti-social behaviour with regard to toilet activities in public etc
• Fly tipping which is not prosecuted
• Rogue traders operating business from encampments and leaving their work product behind in the form of fly tipping
• All Gypsies/Travellers being tarred with same brush
• Lack practical help, advice and information on how to deal with rogue traders who turn up at door, ask for cash payments etc
• Impression given that the law is not applied equally
• Impression given that Gypsy/Traveller concerns prevail over those of the settled communities.

Because the guidelines lack this type of inclusiveness they actually hinder trust and respect: by addressing these issues trust and respect can be rebuilt between the two communities.

The laws of Scotland should be applied to everyone fairly and equally. The general presumption not to prosecute Gypsies/Travellers for the crime of trespass is one example of how the settled communities see inequality in these guidelines. I can understand the guidelines are an attempt to enable Gypsies/Travellers to follow their life style choices. However I question the following:

• This “general presumption” should be understood to be a privilege not a right. This privilege should be withdrawn for bad conduct, unsuitable encampment, fly tipping etc.
• A presumption against prosecution of Gypsies/Travellers for the act of trespass in itself should not be interpreted by the police to mean a presumption against prosecutions for acts of damage, threatening or abusive behaviour, of preventing the lawful use of public recreational or sporting facilities, or lawful cultivation of agricultural land or other husbandry requirements
• Within the guidelines there is no limit to the trespass
• Within the above guidelines there are exceptions to the general presumption not to prosecute the crime of trespass for example occupational travellers. However this exception is not included in ACPOS and local authority guidelines. This differentiation requires explanation
• It should not ever be classed as harassment of an individual or group of people within an encampment, if they are investigated for crimes such as fly tipping etc.  A legal solution is required to deal with fly tipping etc within an encampment
• Non Harassment policies are repeatedly quoted by police and local authorities when asked for advice, guidance and action in relation to crimes of public urination, fly tipping etc. I question whether this is an excuse to take no action
• This general presumption leads to apathy by the police and local authorities, which in turn leads to other crimes and indiscretions, such as fly tipping, urinating and defecating in public being ignored
• For any agency to say there is nothing they can do about defecating and urinating freely in public is completely unacceptable.

Because the law is applied unfairly this leads to a lack of trust and respect of all involved – police, local authority, individuals in an encampment. 

Private landowners are treated as an irrelevance in the guidelines. It is fundamentally unfair that, due to the general presumption not to prosecute Gypsies/Travellers for the crime of trespass, the protection of trespass laws is effectively withdrawn from private landowners.  The fact that land cannot be fully protected from the risk of trespassing (even a chain and padlock on a gate is not sufficient protection) means that private landowners have no real protection to prevent or remove trespassers. 

• This “general presumption” has been given for political reasons and should only apply to government or local authority land; it is not the responsibility of a private landowner to provide encampments for Gypsies/Travellers
• It is unacceptable that private landowners are expected to take out civil action at a four figure cost to them because protection within Scottish law has been withdrawn from them by these guidelines
• The parameters that local authorities and police apply when making the decision to move an encampment on is based on social, health, education etc needs of Gypsies/Travellers and whether the local authority has places in an authorised Gypsy/Traveller site.  This is a burden which private landowner cannot meet 
• This unfairness requires to be reviewed; the general presumption not to prosecute the crime of trespass should not be applied when an encampment is on private land
• The human rights of private landowners are just as important as those of Gypsies/Travellers.

The effects of a Gypsy/Traveller encampment on private land cannot be ignored. It is an intimidating experience to have a mass of caravans and individuals descend on your property. The aftermath of an encampment is difficult to deal with; the human waste products is the most distressing, household waste and fly tipping etc  It is a costly experience and stressful. I question the following;

• Trespass law must be allowed to be enforced by the police when dealing with an encampment on private land
• The crime of trespass is the only crime which the police are meant to ignore. However they also seem to ignore the crimes of fly tipping and urinating and defecation in public etc
• Local authorities cannot say this has nothing to do with them when the encampment is on private land and shirk their responsibilities regards environmental health, fly tipping, toilet facilities etc
• Why can it be considered acceptable that a private landowner is asked to pay for toilet facilities and rubbish facilities for trespassers?
• Once the encampment is clear of the trespasser, local authority officials arrive on site and explain the landowner’s responsibility and the timescale they have in which to reinstate the land, entirely at their own cost (mentally, physically and financially)
• In this day and age the Gypsy/Travelling community has no excuse for not providing their own toilet facilities. It should be their responsibility to do this at their own cost, including when the local authority provides them
• Gypsies/travellers have their own transport (it is how they move around).  They have no excuse not to do their own recycling and take this to local dumps as the settled communities do
• These issues require to be addressed in order to rebuild trust and respect between the communities.

A swift solution to instantly make progress in re-building trust and respect would be to alter the roles of GypsyTraveller liaison officers.
• Currently the local authorities and police each have Gypsy/Traveller liaison officers whose role is to assess encampments for suitability, address the social needs and safety requirements of an encampment and ensure that Gypsy/Travellers are protected 
• Make the roles of the liaison officers inclusive of the needs of both communities and instantly a double standard has been removed.

To assist in the fair application of these guidelines across Scotland I recommend that the Scottish Government produces a document called “Charter of Conduct” addressing all the concerns of both communities.  The document should aim to produce a minimum standard of acceptable behaviour and an honest and forthright assessment of all issues and solutions.

Summary of points raised within this petition
1. The inequality of the guidelines
2. The need to reassess the issues and concerns of both communities and find manageable solutions
3. Review the legal responsibilities
4. Review the general presumption not to prosecute the crime of trespass
5. Address the issues raised regarding encampments on private land
6. Develop a more honest and constructive approach
7. Produce a fair and balanced “charter of conduct.”

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