VILLAGERS are furious after hundreds of travellers descended on their green for an unofficial trap race.

The gathering, in West Auckland, County Durham, highlighted the tensions between travellers and communities across the region.

Council officers and police voiced their concern last night after about 200 members of the travelling community held trap races and left the village green a muddy mess.

Residents did not know the event was due to take place on Sunday, and say that horses and traps were racing along the A68 through the village, turning in the middle of the road, and holding up traffic.

Some travellers parked on footpaths, blocking pavements and access to people’s garages, and 4x4s churned up wet grass, leaving deep, muddy tyre tracks on the green.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said it was the worst travellers’ gathering to take place in the village.

He said: “This is the fourth one this year, and we don’t usually mind, but the damage they have caused this time is awful.”

West Auckland Parish Council chairwoman, Councillor Hazel Charlton, said: “This is disrespectful of people’s property, and it is going to cost a fortune to put the area back to normal.

“We really need to ensure this never happens again.”

Durham county councillor Andy Turner fears that some parts of the green may need to be re-laid, which could delay the next phase of a £39,000 improvement scheme for the area.

In the new year, the council expects to create a war memorial on the village green, and there are also plans to erect a statue of Sir Thomas Lipton, to commemorate West Auckland Football Club’s achievements in the early 1900s.

Wear Valley district councillor John Ferguson called for the event organisers to be prosecuted, and questioned the lack of action taken over illegally parked vehicles.

“The police are prosecuting West Auckland residents for parking on footpaths for a few minutes while they go into shops, but the travellers were parking all over the place and were not being given tickets,”

he said.

Residents were also upset about the amount of litter which had been left behind and had to be cleared by the district council yesterday morning, plus horse droppings.

Neighbourhood Inspector Martin Peace said police received some reports of racing on the road, but officers did not witness any races when they attended the event He said: “There were a lot of people around, and the large volume of vehicles caused some obstruction in the village.

“We will be contacting the traveller liaison officer to find an alternative site, because this one is not appropriate.”

Gipsy and traveller representative Billy Welch said the event was a traditional part of the travelling community’s Christmas celebrations, when people meet up to show off their new horses.

He said: “Sometimes people tend to exaggerate things and make a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to travellers.

“We have had this before. People ring the police when we have not broken any laws, it is just a problem we have got.

“There should not have been any mess, and the area should have been left the way it was found.”