Becketts’ traveller trouble is cautionary tale for farm shops
Farm shops need to familiarise themselves with the law of trespass in case travellers encamp on their land, legal experts have warned.
The advice comes after several caravans pitched up in the car park at Birmingham’s Becketts Farm Shop during the height of the summer.
Johanne Spittle, director and head of agriculture and landed estates at legal firm Lupton Fawcett, said it was not uncommon for landowners to experience trespassers on their land.
She stressed the importance of an up-to-date plan of owned land and copies of title deeds or land registry documents.
Spittle also advised fencing off ditches, laying boulders and rubble to prevent access and to lock gates where possible, but owners must ensure nothing erected could cause injury.
Last month, it cost Becketts £495 to legally evict encroaching travellers from its site in Wythall just off junction 3 of the M42. Before doing so, it positioned farm vehicles at the entrance of the car park to stop any more unwanted caravans.
Retail director Ian Comer said: “Where we are, with the road network we’ve got around us, we are plagued by them.”
Comer told the travellers he understood he had to get an injunction to remove them but they could not use the shop, the restaurant or the toilets.
“Thirty minutes later, they were trying to get in,” he said. “I had to post people on the door to kick them out but they probably know the law better than I do.”
Becketts is only closed six hours a day, Comer said, so he could not turn the site into “Fort Knox” because some staff came into work at 4am and a golf-driving range on the site is open until 10pm.
If trespassers do make it onto a site, Johanne Spittle said owners should contact police and ask them to exercise their discretion under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1995, which also gives councils powers to remove trespassers.
She said police were more likely to exercise their power if trespassers used threatening behaviour or caused damage.
“If the police refuse to intervene, ask for an explanation,” she added. “However, at this point you should ask your solicitor to proceed and apply to the court for an injunction forcing the trespassers to leave”.
She warned that, although some farm shops might have signs such as ‘no walkers with muddy boots’ and ‘no backpacks’, any signs that could be viewed as excluding people on the basis of race would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.