Sussex Police have defended their decision to escort a giant mobile home to a disputed travellers’ site, saying they have a responsibility to ensure safety when abnormal loads are on the roads.
Villagers in South Harting were enraged when officers escorted the 15ft-wide mobile home through the village on Friday to what they claim is an illegal travellers’ site.
They booed and shook their fists as the convoy made its way through the village to the disputed Three Cornered Piece site in East Harting.
There is anger that despite Chichester District Council (CDC) stop orders, a planning appeal which was dismissed and the intervention of Eric Pickles’s local government and communities department which ruled the land to be agricultural, the use of the land continues. Parish council chairman David Barnard said: ‘It’s a fait accompli and we are stuck with it – but that doesn’t make it feel any better. We could have staged a bigger protest but had to boil it down to the fact that the police had a job to do.
“There’s quite a lot of ill feeling around. If it was going to be two vans kept clean and tidy there would not be much objection, but two leads to 12 and then 24 and before you know it, we have another Dale Farm on our hands.
“I was born and brought up in Harting. But if I parked a caravan on a friendly farmer’s field the planners supported by the police would be on to me like a shot. “
Chris Healy, another parish councillor, said: “No one can understand why the police are escorting this vehicle to commit what is an illegal action.”
Neil Simpson, a Nyewood villager who was ordered by CDC to remove a touring caravan from his land, added: “It is a mystery to everyone here how it can be that this is supported by the police and permitted by CDC under circumstances where no work is permitted until the High Court appeal against the ministry judgment has been heard.”
The travellers deny they are occupying the site illegally. One member of the family said on Friday: “We have permission to be here for three years, so what’s the problem?”
They claim the mobile home is a replacement for one of the other much smaller caravans.
A concrete base for it is already laid, even though a retrospective planning application for that and a septic tank has yet to be considered.
A spokesman for Sussex Police said: “We are aware of civil legal action around this site, but have been advised by CDC this action is pending. We have taken advice to ensure our road safety assistance is not in breach of any court orders.
“Sussex Police recognises the local sensitivities around this issue. We are playing a minor role in the event, carrying out our responsibility to help escort abnormal loads for safety reasons.
“As part of the normal process when we escort abnormal loads for safety reasons, the haulage company pays for this support.”