Police accused of treating travellers 'like animals'

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The Independent Online

A convoy of more than 500 travellers complained of "being treated like animals" by the police yesterday after they were forcibly evicted from six sites they had set up on rugby club playing fields, village greens and cricket pitches in Berkshire.

A convoy of more than 500 travellers complained of "being treated like animals" by the police yesterday after they were forcibly evicted from six sites they had set up on rugby club playing fields, village greens and cricket pitches in Berkshire.

Thames Valley Police, which deployed 82 officers in an action code-named Operation East, ordered the crackdown after a wave of petty crime was reported by residents near the sites. An elderly woman was bitten by a lurcher dog and there were reports of "petrol bilkings" and thefts from local businesses, police said.

The evictions provoked heated exchanges and accusations of police heavy-handedness. As police escorted a large convoy of caravans and cars on to the M4 - and out of the area - some travellers blocked petrol pumps at a motorway service station in protest at their treatment.

One of the travellers, David Murphy, aged 30, said police had confiscated his £10,000 caravan over an allegation that it had been involved in an accident, which he denied. He said: "They were trying to make an example of me. Me and my pregnant wife had to sleep in my van. We're being treated like animals."

He said the actions of the police, who arrived on the sites at dawn, had frightened his four children. "They saw their home being towed away and now they have nowhere to live. We have even had to leave the dog behind," he said. "The police have acted mob-handed. We're all married men with kids. We're not hooligans. I have been a traveller all of my life and never had a problem like this."

Sean Nolan, 37, who had been living with his wife and seven children in a caravan parked on a playing field in the village of Sonning, said the family had recently been moved from Bristol. "Where do they want us to go now?"

Police said they were anxious to break a cycle which involved travellers moving from one Berkshire site to another as they were served with eviction notices. They said the travellers wished to remain in the wealthy area around Wokingham and Reading because of "easy pickings" in terms of work opportunities.

Superintendent David Murray, of Thames Valley Police, said: "We have to balance the rights of travellers to live their lives against the rights of residents to live theirs. We are satisfied that the adverse impact of the volume of travellers is such that even though landowners and the local authorities are in the process of seeking relief from the civil courts, those court orders will not achieve a sustainable dispersement."

Neighbouring police forces have been alerted to the presence of the convoy.

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