Be nice to the travellers, urge police

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The Independent Online



POLICE WERE taking a "softly, softly" approach yesterday to the arrival of up to 2,000 travellers in the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth. They issued urgent appeals for local residents to show "festive goodwill" towards the travellers who claim to be all members of an "extended family".

The travellers, who have arrived from across Britain, and from Ireland, Belgium, and Germany, had said they planned to make the town their home until the new year. A mobile police station and extra patrols have been set up on the Norfolk seafront where a convoy of 350 to 400 caravans unexpectedly arrived on Thursday. Core members of the group came to the town after celebrating at a wedding reception in a social club at nearby Winterton-on-Sea.

They claimed the visit was an annual gathering which took place in a different town every Christmas and that last year it was held in the resort of Rhyl in north Wales.

One traveller said: "We do not mean any harm and we will not be any trouble to anyone. We are just a bunch of people who like to get together every Christmas. We chose Great Yarmouth because it is a nice place to visit. All we want to do is to have a great Christmas and celebrate the new arrival of the new millennium without causing any bother."

The travellers took police and council officials by surprise and were allowed to set up camp in a seafront car park owned by the local council after police decided there were too many of them to turn away.

Some furious local residents protested in vain as dozens of caravans and vehicles ended up being parked on the promenade after the car park quickly filled to capacity.

Mel Lacey, a spokesman for the Norfolk police, said: "Residents have naturally expressed concern and we sympathise with them. If these caravans had suddenly appeared in front of your house you would be concerned too. We have established a mobile police station to provide a day and night police presence to alleviate the fears and concerns of local residents. We hope this will go off in the spirit of Christmas, will remain peaceful and that they will all get on well with the residents."

David Cushing, superintendent in charge of the policing, said: "Our priority is to deal with this matter in a peaceful and conciliatory way. We will be maintaining a police presence in the area throughout the time the caravans remain here. I fully sympathise with the concerns of the local residents and I will do all I can to alleviate any fears they may have. However, I would ask for the understanding of the local community as to the complex nature of the situation we are faced with."

The majority of the caravans, about 300, are parked in a car park, with dozens of other vehicles along the seafront road.

The acting head of the Great Yarmouth environmental health department, John Hemsworth, said that residents had found the arrival of the travellers "disturbing" but added there was no immediate prospect of forcing them to leave.

Peter Rowlands, 45, a father-of-two, whose home borders the encampment, said: "I telephoned the council when the caravans started arriving at around 4pm on Friday.

"But within half an hour or so there was a big queue of caravans waiting to go in to the car park. The police did absolutely nothing to stop them."