Mirfield firm left counting the cost of gypsies

LAND GRAB: Garden centre staff Anne Childe and Debbie Jones on the site where travellers set up camp. (d13041150)
LAND GRAB: Garden centre staff Anne Childe and Debbie Jones on the site where travellers set up camp. (d13041150)
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A MIRFIELD garden centre boss is furious at having to pick up the tab for getting travellers off his land.

Whiteleys general manager Andy Schofield reckons evicting the dozen or so caravans will set him back around £4,000.

“And then there’s the cost of cleaning up the land they were on,” he said.

Mr Schofield says trespass laws should be changed to protect businesses and landowners.

And a Mirfield councillor and local MP Simon Reevell agree. Mr Reevell, in fact, plans to press for change if a bill going through Parliament does not go far enough.

Travellers set up an illegal camp on Sunday on land used by Whiteleys as an overflow car park, telling Mr Schofield they aimed to stay a week.

Nearby residents complained of power generators running throughout the night and police set up extra patrols around the Leeds Road site.

But both police and Kirklees Council were powerless as the land is privately owned and leased to the garden centre.

“Telling me they were staying a week was unacceptable,” said Mr Schofield, who issued an eviction notice as legal occupier and hired a specialist firm to deal with the situation.

The travellers ignored a 7pm deadline on Tuesday so the private company moved in on Wednesday to clear the site.

“It has cost us around £4,000 to get rid of them,” said Mr Schofield. “And that’s a lot for a relatively small firm. This should be a criminal offence.”

Mr Schofield was worried about the effect on his business with the overflow car park being out of use. He said customers had complained about a young boy squatting down to defecate on the field.

“How can I let customers on that field without it all being cleaned up?” he said.

The garden centre is now installing gates and a blockade to prevent a repeat. “So that’s another expense,” said Mr Schofield.

Coun Martyn Bolt said trespass is not a criminal offence under current law. “I have been saying for a long time that this is not right,” he said. “It causes major inconvenience and cost. A change is long overdue. Whereas now, it’s where next?”

Mr Reevell said Parliament is looking at changing the law on squatting to make it a criminal offence. “We haven’t yet seen the draft, but I hope the legislation will deal with trespass such as we have seen this week in Mirfield,” he said. “If not, I will suggest we change it to give police powers not just on squatting in property, but on someone’s land, garden or business.”