MSPs continue traveller guidelines investigation

PUBLIC bodies such as Grampian Police and Aberdeenshire Council are to be asked to detail how they plan to deal with unauthorised traveller camps in the North-east.

The move was decided by MSPs this week as part of the response to a petition submitted by Stonehaven woman Phyllis McBain, which calls for a review of the guidelines outlining how authorities should deal with unauthorised sites.

Ms McBain appealed for changes to be made after Grampian Police and Aberdeenshire Council refused to do anything to help remove 20 caravans from a field owned by her mother at Fetteresso, in June.

MSPs agreed to carry out an investigation into how key agencies felt about the current guidelines and their application, and have already received responses from them.

However, the public petitions committee felt it was appropriate to gather further information before making a decision on whether there was a need for a full review of the guidelines.

Ms McBain, who was present in Holyrood to hear the debate this week, said: “The petition is still open and another round of questions is going to be sent out. From what they said on Tuesday they are going to ask the police and local authorities how they are going to deal with unauthorised sites taking into account that there are not sufficient authorised sites.”

Ms McBain said she was frustrated by the delay but pleased that consideration was still being given to the petition.

“I think they think they have more time than they do,” she said. “The situation has already started again in Stonehaven, although it is only a couple of caravans at Baird park.

“After this round of questions there is bound to be enough information to make a decision on a full review of the guidelines.

“I’m not saying to throw out the guidelines, it is about readdressing the balance to make them a little bit fairer to all involved.”

Ms McBain said she believed the key issues which now need to be asked is whether the police feel they have enough “operational discretion” to deal with unauthorised camps, taking into consideration the Lord Advocate’s guidance that there is a presumption against prosecution for offences in respect of unauthorised encampments.

She also hoped that the Lord Advocate would be approached and asked whether that guidance was still believed to be appropriate.

In the responses already received by the public petitions committee, the presumption against prosecution and the fact that there are no authorised sites in the area were highlighted as the biggest stumbling blocks in dealing with unauthorised encampments.

Colin Menzies, Assistant Chief Constable for Grampian Police, said: “The key issue that serves to reinforce the presumption of non-prosecution for unauthorised encampment offences is the lack of authorised sites.

“This in turn leaves both the Local Authority and Police in a position where no alternative transit/halting site can be suggested, thereby hindering the options available. Failure to identify such a site leads to a position where the applicability of the relevant legislation is undermined.”