The story of a Leighton Buzzard woman who is moving away from the town due to a catalogue of crimes allegedly committed against her by travellers has been raised in the House of Commons by her MP.
South West Beds MP Andrew Selous held his third debate on national traveller policies in Parliament after listening to the concerns of his consituents, including the woman who says she now feels unsafe in Leighton Buzzard.
He told the House: “A lady wrote to me in June to say that she will be moving away from the area as she no longer feels safe, having been assaulted by travellers, travellers having trespassed in her garden, having been followed by travellers and her husband’s tools having been stolen from his car three times, causing a loss of income.
“That lady also has human rights that have not been respected. Of course, there are many decent, law-abiding travellers, and all groups have good and bad in them, but I hear too many accounts like the one I just recounted.”
He added: “My constituency has many traveller sites, but a planning policy of segregation and separation makes integration and community cohesion hard to achieve. The 2011 census showed that over three quarters of Gypsies and Travellers generally live happily among the settled population, and I have some heart-warming examples of travellers becoming settled residents, with the children now attending school regularly and the parents in formal work.”
But he said: “My constituents have had to put up with far more than their fair share of “misery”, as one constituent described it to me on Friday, as a result of current Gypsy and Traveller policy.
“One of my sites has had three major incidents of modern slavery, with 24 slaves saved by the police on the first occasion. Threats, violence, theft and other forms of intimidation have become everyday occurrences to some of my constituents, and Bedfordshire Police, with an already overstretched budget, are not able to respond in as timely a manner as they would wish, leaving many of my constituents living in fear.”
At the debate on Monday, September 10, a dozen other MPs, from different parties, supported calls for a complete overhaul of traveller policy and for several specific changes in the law called for by both Central Bedfordshire Council and Bedfordshire Police.
Mr Selous called for adoption of the Irish policy of making the occupation of land without permission a criminal offence.
Mr Selous said: “My main concern is with current planning policy, which allows many traveller pitches in some areas when others have none at all. Multiple traveller sites lead to many unauthorised encampments.
“In 2017, there were 116 unauthorised encampments in Central Bedfordshire, and clear-up costs in the area were around £350,000. Over £200,000 of that was spent by Highways England.”
Additionally, Mr Selous called for those responsible for the clear up costs of unauthorised encampments to be made to pay for them and for proper land registry records to be maintained on traveller sites so enforcement could happen through both the planning system and by the Environment Agency and public health authorities.
He said: “The time for endless constant reviews is over. Fair and decent-minded people who are fed up with living in fear and with seeing atrocious living conditions in their area that often become ungoverned spaces where modem slavery and other crime flourishes want action now, not constant review.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Selous said: “The Minister who responded, said: ‘I fervently hope that, through my actions and the actions of the Department over the months to come, we can obviate the need for a fourth such debate.’ Seeing will be believing.”