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Commissioner gives evidence to Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee

Devon and Cornwall’s Police and Crime Commissioner has welcomed Government plans to give police more powers to tackle unauthorised encampments.

Commissioner gives evidence to Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee

Giving evidence to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee yesterday afternoon Alison Hernandez said councils and communities in her area were struggling to cope with the cost of clearing up after unauthorised encampments.

The Commissioner cited the case of a local authority that had invested £18,500 in steel gates, only to have these broken.

The Government is proposing to use the legislation to create a new criminal offence of trespass. Currently staying overnight on an unauthorised site is a civil offence.

“Let’s be really clear about this, we are talking about a minority of people who do not want to abide by the laws of this country and we need this offence, I believe, to support our communities to send a very clear message that you don’t do this type of behaviour,” the commissioner told the committee.

“This £18,500 fencing was created at Drumbridges roundabout to stop them using that land and they broke in, they have spotters who go ahead to break open the gates and then use the excuse that the gate’s already open.

“I’ve asked about CCTV, can we put it on the main sites where we’ve actually got these things happening? That can’t be done because of human rights because it’s where someone’s living.

“On Dartmoor where there was an unauthorised encampment, it became huge, and when they become huge no one can be moved because the amount of resource required is immense, the bailiffs were going to cost £50,000 a day and they’d still need police back up in order to do it.

“There’s something about sending a message through this bill which is telling the public that we are on their side and that we don’t support people who don’t want to abide by the law.”

Asked by the Committee whether there was more that could be done in the Bill to improve safety on our roads the Commissioner highlighted the appetite for greater enforcement shown in  a 2020 survey of over 66,000 people carried out by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. 

The Commissioner called for greater action on the penalties that people face when committing road traffic offences – including  a ‘levelling up’ of the fines to the same level for using a mobile phone whilst driving and the re-investment of fines to support road safety activities. 

The Commissioner also highlighted the importance of ensuring that homicide reviews are conducted promptly to ensure that lessons are learnt and explained how she and Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer had created a Serious Violence Prevention Programme.