WHEREVER travellers set up unauthorised encampments on public land, the public want a host of questions answered.

They boil down to: What can be done? And are travellers in these camps being treated more leniently than others would be?

The Echo attempts to deal with some of the key questions:

Why can't travellers be moved on more quickly?

Councils in Dorset have not generally met their legal obligation to provide sites where travellers can stay.

In areas where councils provide travellers with a legal place to stop, the police can use Section 62A of the Criminal Justice Act to move those who set up illegal sites.

Otherwise, the police have only Section 61 of the same act, which is rarely used because it requires evidence of a high level of criminality.

When police are unable to act, councils are forced go to the civil courts to have the camps evicted - a process which takes around a week and often ends with the travellers moving on the day they are set for eviction.

This has resulted in officials 'chasing' groups of travellers around Bournemouth and Poole, with the eviction process starting from scratch with each new site.

What difference would the use of Section 62A - ie if there were enough authorised sites - make?

Police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill has pointed out that last summer, when Dorset County Council set up an authorised site shortly before the Dorset Steam Fair, things were different.

When an unauthorised camp was established in Sherborne, it was moved on within hours.

Why are travellers not fined when they camp in car parks without paying?

This has proved one of the most inflammatory issues connected with travellers' camps - public resentment at seeing the owners of illegally-parked vehicles escaping parking tickets.

In the summer of 2012, a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Echo established that 16 fines had been issued in Bournemouth car parks where travellers were camped. But the council refused to say how many of those tickets had been issued to travellers' vehicles and how many to other drivers.

Problems can include the safety of the parking wardens and the difficulty in tracing the registered keepers of the vehicles.

Planning and transport boss Mike Holmes said when the Echo covered this issue: “Council enforcement officers will issue penalty charge notices where possible but our standard council policy advises that if they feel their personal safety is compromised then they should not put themselves at risk.”

Can't councils share a travellers' site?

Bournemouth council has argued that it has no possible site for a travellers' camp, although the law requires councils to provide sites within their own boundaries.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said last year that he would “welcome” councils setting up shared sites.

That was taken by some as an indication that police would, in future, be able to invoke the tougher Section 62A powers as long as there was an authorised site locally, even if it was across a local authority boundary.

But so far there has been no change in the rules on this issue, leaving each council to find a site or make the best of the current situation.

Why are travellers on illegal encampments not prosecuted for criminal offences?

If travellers remove fence posts or break locks to gain access to open spaces, residents often complain that they are not prosecuted for the damage involved.

Similarly, they complain that fly-tipping and keeping untaxed vehicles often go unpunished.

Dorset Police provided a statement from Chief Inspector Mike Claxton, who said: “When policing unauthorised encampments (UAEs) Dorset Police applies the law in the same way to both UAEs and the settled community. Crime and antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated.”

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