Police reveal traveller incidents double in 12 months

The Northern Echo: GATHERING: A large group of gypsy caravans at Startforth Park near Barnard Castle.  Picture: CHRIS BOOTH GATHERING: A large group of gypsy caravans at Startforth Park near Barnard Castle. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH

A POLICE review has revealed that the number of traveller related incidents has more than doubled since last year.

Traveller migration through Teesdale attracts dozens of calls to police each year and officers say that this year’s increase is linked to a Gypsy camp at Startforth Park.

The travellers moved to Startforth Park when the official stopover site at Shawbank was waterlogged from heavy rain.

A total of 74 incidents were reported to police this year, up from 31 in 2013. Forty-five of those incidents were linked to the illegal camp on the outskirts of Barnard Castle.

The figure was at its lowest in 2012 when 18 incidents were reported, down from 34 in 2011 and 44 in 2010.

Police say reports from concerned residents included the arrival of travellers, loose dogs, youths riding horses and fire on grassland.

Sergeant Simon Rogers, of Barnard Castle neighbourhood police team, said: “We had a number of calls from residents of Startforth Park who felt intimidated and threatened whilst they were driving through the traveller encampment to and from their home addresses.”

However, despite the increase in incidents, police say there has not been a rise in crime.

Two crimes believed to be connected to the traveller migration have been investigated in Bowes - damage to a car where a youth fired a catapult at it and when someone started a tractor in a barn. No-one has been found responsible yet.

A forum has been set up to discuss the best ways to tackle illegal traveller camping and the areas that could be targeted in future, such as the land in front of Deerbolt Young Offenders Institute.

Police, the Deerbolt YOI governor and parish council members met for the first time on Monday (July 1).

Tony Cooke, chairman of the forum, said: “We need to make sure that Shawbank is fit for purpose. If we get the downpours that we had this year again then the field is still fit for caravans which would prevent the travellers moving onto an area that we do not want them to.”

Sgt Rogers added: “We have identified a number of important work streams for next year, including making sure that Startforth Park is target hardened and problem solving work is undertaken on Harmire Industrial Estate. We need to make sure that the security of the Demesnes is maintained by the local residents to prevent trespassing.”

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