North Yorkshire candidates clash on new law to criminalise trespass in race to be next Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner

A clash of opinions has broken out in the race to be the next Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and York after the Tory candidate backed Priti Patel's new law to criminalise trespass.

By Graham Chalmers
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:43 pm
Under plans by Home Secretary Priti Patel,  trespass would become a criminal offence and travellers would be prevented from setting up camp on private land.
Under plans by Home Secretary Priti Patel, trespass would become a criminal offence and travellers would be prevented from setting up camp on private land.

Philip Allott the Conservative Candidate in May’s PFCC elections, this week welcomed plans by Home Secretary Priti Patel for a new law that will prevent travellers from setting up camp on private land bringing, what he said was, "misery" for local residents.

The legislation which is currently progressing through Parliament, will create a new criminal offence of ‘intentional trespass’.

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Currently, trespass is treated as a civil offence, which requires landowners or local authorities to seek a court order to evict people if they are occupying private or public land, the process is time consuming, confusing and often slow.

It is estimated currently there are 23,000 traveller caravans in England, and that 14 per cent of these are parked on private unauthorised sites.

- Source The Daily Telegraph - 15 January 2021

Mr Allott said: "These so-called unofficial camps often spring up overnight and then cause misery for local residents, sometimes for months.

"Nobody wants illegal encampments after local authorities have invested substantial Council tax sums building legal camps, and illegal encampments can really scare people."

But rival candidates say they are firmly against the changes, arguing it may affect innocent walkers and may risk dragging the police and the criminal courts into common disputes over access to properties,

James Barker, Lib Dem PFCC for North Yorkshire, said even respected bodies such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England were worried by the proposals which are currently being .

Mr Barker said: "I am concerned that an unintended consequence of such a change in legislation may be to give landowners the chance to criminalise harmless and often accidental trespass.

"This should not apply, for instance, to walkers who stray off a public right of way or to those who cross private land to pass an obstruction.

“A number of respected organisations such as the CPRE have expressed deep concern and opposition to the Government’s proposals to make trespass a criminal, instead of a civil, offence.

"I hope that the Government will take heed of these concerns. I would urge for a 'Right to Roam' be included in any new law".

Independent candidate and former police officer Keith Tordoff MBE said he feared the new law might only be the "thin end of the wedge."

Mr Tordoff said: "When the new law gets approval, it will become a criminal offence and councils will in the first instance be able to order people to move to a local or neighbouring local authority site.

"It also potentially opens up the possibility of large landowners involving the Police in disputes over people exercising their access rights on their land escalating from what had been a civil dispute to one of criminalising people.

"The proposed new criminal offence of intentional trespass may be the thin edge of the wedge."

Under the Home Secretary's plans, ultimately, if illegal occupiers refused to comply with the new law, the police would intervene and those in breach could face a three-month prison sentence and/or a fine of up to £2,500.

Tory PFCC candidate Philip Allott stressed there would be a need to balance people's rights when the new law went through Parliament.

He said: “The Government is keen to increase local authority and police powers to force people to move on from illegal encampments.

“If elected, enforcing the legislation will be part of my crime plan because it is one of the hot issues.

“Obviously, there is a need for some balancing when Parliament debates the legislation, which is a Conservative manifesto commitment because we must not by the law of unintended consequences accidently restrict the rights of people to access and walk in the countryside.”

But Lib Dem PFCC candidate James Barker said: “As a scout leader, I know how important it is to have access to open spaces for recreation.

Particularly in the recovery stage of the Covid pandemic, a period when many people have found some solace in enjoying the outdoors, we should be further encouraging exercise and recreational activities, such as walking, cycling, climbing or canoeing in the countryside, and not putting people off by putting them at risk of committing a crime by doing so."

Independent PFCC candidate Keith Tordoff MBE said: "I stand as the Independent candidate for the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner of North Yorkshire to be strong on fighting crime but to defend the general freedom of minorities.

"The Government consulted with Police Commissioners from around the Country about the proposed legislation and 75% of them responded that the existing law was sufficient/

"The new law would allow the confiscation of homes of those suspected of trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it.

"The new law would clearly disproportionately affect travellers and, also, rough sleepers who would then be left without a roof over their heads or a place to stop.

"The new law would also allow such groups to be moved along to another local or neighbouring authority."

On going to press, Alison Hume, the Labour Party's PFCC candidate had not yet responded to a request to comment.

Factfile: North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner elections, North Yorkshire, May 6, 2021

The candidates

Conservative: Philip Allott

Labour: Alison Hume

Independent: Keith Tordoff MBE.

Lib Dem: James Barker.

Looking back: Result of 2016 election for North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner

First Choice Voting: Conservative 53,078 Labour 34,351 Independent 30,984 Lib Dem 13,856

As no candidate won over 50%, the second preferences of the Independent and Lib Dem candidates were distributed to the two leading candidates, giving this final result:

Conservative 65,018

Labour 44,759

Factfile: North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner

The North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) elections will take place on Thursday, May 6; the same day as the North Yorkshire County Council Elections.

PFCCs are elected every four years and are elected representatives who oversee a police force and fire service area.

There will be one PFCC elected for all of North Yorkshire.

The winner will replace the current commissioner Julia Mulligan, who has come to the end of her term.