In May this year, Brentwood in Essex suffered a number of unlawful traveller encampments.
In the encampment on Wates Way in Brentwood, the travelers posted a notice threatening to prosecute anyone who tried to remove them:
"We live at this property, it is our home and we intend to stay here.
"Any entry or attempt to enter into these premises without our permission is therefore a criminal offence as any one of us who is in physical possession is opposed to such entry without our permission.
"If you attempt to enter by violence or threatening violence we will prosecute you. You may receive a sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000."
They claim that, because the site is not residential property, Section 144 of LAPSO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) does not apply. This was the act that made it a criminal offence to squat in residential premises.
They are quite correct – it was a site awaiting redevelopment, not a residential home.
However, they are still trespassing and do not have the right to be on the site without the permission of the landowner, who is entirely within his rights to remove them.
The travellers may think they are claiming adverse possession, which is where a squatter has factual possession of the land, with the necessary intention to possess and without the owner’s consent.
They may not have realised that they will need to be there for a little longer than a few hours before they can claim adverse possession!
Under the Land Registration Act 2002, they will need to be there for ten years before they can apply to be registered as the owner in place of the registered owner (in the Land Registry).
The most straightforward, and often the fastest, option to remove trespassers is to instruct Certificated enforcement agents, such as The Sheriffs Office, to remove them under Common Law.
The EAs will serve notice giving the travellers 24 hours to leave; they will return the following day. If the travellers have not left, the EAs will remove the vehicles and any animals on the site.
The landlord also has the option of applying to the court for an order for possession, which he can then transfer to the High Court for enforcement under a writ of possession (permission is not required to transfer up an order for possession against “persons unknown”).
He may also request assistance from the Police, although they are not obliged to remove the trespassers in the same way that they are under LAPSO. In this case, the police did remove the travelers from the site, but they did so because they were found to have been fly-tipping.
Find out more
You can read more about safeguarding land from access by travelers in this article.
We also have a complimentary eBook on the eviction of squatters, trespassers and activists.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance