Travellers who failed to leave Peterborough park fined at court

Illegal encampments, like the one above, have been a regular issue in Peterborough
Illegal encampments, like the one above, have been a regular issue in Peterborough

A group of travellers who didn’t leave a public park after being given an eviction notice have been fined at court.

A number of caravans parked up on Walton Park near a children’s play area in Peterborough at the end of May - and were ordered to leave by 6pm on May 31.

However, by 7.30pm the caravans were still in place.

The men all said they were packing up to leave when they were arrested.

On Wednesday, five men appeared at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court, where they pleaded guilty to trespass.

The five - Anthony McDonagh (27) and John Nevin (25), both of Three Cherry Trees Lane, Hemel Hempsted, Charlie McDonagh, (35) of Watergall, Bretton, Peterborough, and Thomas McDonagh, (19) of Botley Road, Southampton, were all given a £150 fine and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

The men were all told the court had power to ban the men from driving, and seize vehicles from them. But magistrate Peter Waterfield said because it was the group’s first offence of this type, he would not be exercising the powers. However, he warned them if they came before the court for similar offences again, it was likely their cars would be confiscated.

Peterborough City Councillor John Fox, who chaired a Travellers Working Group on Peterborough City Council, called for a change in the law following the case. He said: “The law should change, and people who are found on land they should not be on should be asked to leave immediately or face the consequences.”

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire police said: “We treat all members of our communities, whether settled or travelling, sensitively and with respect. Where incidents of trespass occur we always try to engage with people on the site before having to use our policing powers.

“We also work closely with land owners and partners such as the local authority.

“In the vast majority of cases this engagement is enough to encourage those trespassing to move. However, as this case shows, if necessary we will use our powers if people refuse to leave or are causing a significant impact on the local settled community.”

Peterborough City Council said it had a number of powers they use to move groups of travellers on.

Two other members of the group, John McDonagh (24) of Botley Road, Southampton, and Kelly McDonagh (27) of Watergall, Bretton, face the same charge but did not attend court. Their case was adjourned until December 12, to be heard at the same court.

Sarah Mann is co-director of Friends, Families and Travellers - a leading national charity that works on behalf of all gypsies, travellers and Roma regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.

She said: “There are around 25,000 gypsies and travellers in the UK without a place to live. Local authorities have the duty for identify land for gypsy and traveller sites but sadly less than 20 per cent have met their duty.

“Until local authorities catch up on the backlog of planning for sites there will be encampments, as families have nowhere else to go.

“Evicting families who have nowhere to go helps no-one. Therefore, local authorities need to work with families to find better places for them to stop and where services (such as rubbish collection) can be provided and paid for.

“Local authorities have the power to provide temporary stopping places, collect rubbish from encampments and to charge families on encampments for that service (as they do for everyone). Some local authorities do this, which makes life better for everyone.”