Dispersing Travellers from Addlestone 1988

1988: Major operation mounted to move travellers from a camp at Addlestone with numerous PSUs and other resources under Assistant Chief Constable Christ Atkins which was possibly the largest deployment for public order in the county's history. This was the largest of the operations although there were many smaller incidents but each one fraught with potential difficulties. Always the same stories: sick children, pregnant wives, husbands missing so no vehicles; all leading to reasons why they should not be removed from the site.

Chris Atkins: Part of what was ironically then know as the Peace Convoy landed up on a field at Addlestone in the middle of houses. The owner had been paid for its use but had chickened out when he saw what he had unleashed. Initially quiet the travellers quickly started to feature in robberies (streaming through supermarkets in wholesale looting) assaults, thefts and the final straw was the mass riding of motor-cycles through the gardens and patios of the houses around the field, smashing through hedges and fences.

There was a real chance that the locals would take on the travellers and the decision was made to deploy and evict. I was there and Peter May was in charge on the ground. Peter did the direct "negotiation" with the message that they would leave the site forthwith, or they would go to the cells. Had this happened there would have been a major problem with the women and children but these eventualities were planned for.

Under Peter's persuasion they were wavering, but the final persuasive argument was the appearance of a huge piece of machinery (ten feet wheels, yellow, with an enormous bucket at the front) at the entrance to the site. Where it came from I have no idea but I suspect it was a splendid piece of Bobby's initiative. The travellers left shadowed by Traffic without a Police Support Unit or truncheon being deployed.

Graham Ingram: I was on a PSU that went there, and followed one group as it was 'escorted' along the A287 to Odiham, Hants. The local Hants police could not deal, so got Surrey to stay with the travellers for several hours after they crossed the border.

Christian Duckett: The Camberley Superintendent, Tony Jackson was one of the ground commanders on this one and they were New Age Travellers.

Bob Bartlett: These people would travel the country in convoy totally disregarding any traffic laws or conforming to any acceptable behaviour. For example a large convoy on a main road would keep together regardless of traffic conditions, lights or other constraints. It was not unusual for them to fill up with fuel and the whole lot go off without paying. They relied on police forces never having available sufficient resources at anyone time to take them on and they were often right.

Operations were responsible for the logistics for the operation and I have forgotten exactly how many Police Support Units were deployed but I have in mind something like the equivalent of ten. It was a major operation that the Force had decided to see through to the end. On leaving the site the travellers were escorted in small packets out of the county if possible.

There was a protocol that when moving travellers or other evictions surrounding forces should be made aware they were on the move and that they were not to be encouraged to go anywhere so long as it was outside the county. This was honoured in the breach and I have been on a deployment where the evicting force issued the travellers with maps of the county boundary!

Peter May: We all saw this operation from different viewpoints; this is how I saw it. These people were not gypsy travellers but the 'new-age' variety. In fact, they were referred to locally as 'the hippie camp'. I was the superintendent at Addlestone having taken over a young neighbourhood policing site from Denis O'Connor – my previous mentor at HQ.

Travellers' camp at Addlestone 1.

Travellers' camp at Addlestone 1.

The site of the hippie camp was Spinney Field at Addlestone which was owned by a local man. He wasn't a landowner or farmer as such; he had inherited the field so he had no financial resources to pay for actions, litigations, security guards etc. The camp built up over a couple of weeks and by what became D-day minus eight, a huge van equipped with loudspeakers had arrived from the West Country. That signalled the obvious acid-house type of event the following week-end.

All this time, there had been a tri-partite game of tennis taking place with the police (me) – Bernie Buck was my chief inspector – the chief executive of the local council and the land-owner. We were all batting the ball from one to the other but, to be fair, I think we all did what were able given our resources and powers. The inimitable and totally supportive Dr. Blowers was chairman of the Police Community Liaison Group and he too was also getting it in the neck from local residents.

I don't think the build-up was quite as dramatic as would appear but the situation was general day-to-day grief all-round for everyone. Peter Stevens was the divisional chief superintendent at Woking and, as usual, he was a rock who advised wisely and supported his superintendents totally and especially well – always! Chris Atkins was Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) at HQ and Bob Bartlett was Superintendent (Operations). By the end of the day all these colleagues had been magnificent in their support.

Getting back to about a week before D-day, I received a phone call on the Saturday morning that (The Hon.) Sir Geoffrey Pattie, the local MP wanted a briefing on the situation and also wanted to know what was going on. He too was getting grief from his electorate! I went to Addlestone and showed him the camp and explained that we were going to move the whole lot off soon. That bought me a little time. (Incidentally, years later I met Sir Geoffrey when I worked for the police equipment suppliers' trade association. GP as he is now known, still runs a defence and security orientated consultancy in Westminster and we're the best of acquaintances!)

Having promised GP that we would act, I then had to do something about it. A bit of research turned up a provision in, I think, the Public Order Act, which we could use – with the chief officer's consent – to evict everyone as a public order requirement. Unfortunately, this provision had not been used in Surrey before so it needed some detailed consideration. I went to HQ and had a conference with Chris Atkins and Bob Bartlett.

Chris authorised the use of the Act and signed the necessary authority. Bob took me to his office and said 'Right, how many PSUs do you want?' (We settled on ten - budgets were thrown out of the window and Bob stood the whole cost from his Operations budget.) I was living at Liphook at the time and during that week I hauled my computer and printer to the police station and took a room in the section house in case the whole thing blew up suddenly. We had no computing or desk-top publishing equipment at the time so we printed out hundreds of warning leaflets on my computer.

On the Wednesday before D-day we (local officers and me) went thought the whole site issuing the leaflets to everyone and sticking them on all the vans. The notices said we would move everyone off on the Saturday (or was it a Friday?) if they were still there. D-Day came along and so did the ten Police Support Units. The whole eviction went off without much incident at all. The husbands were all suddenly back, and the wheels, half-shafts and engines all miraculously appeared back in their right places.

Travellers camp at Addlestone showing the farm

Travellers camp at Addlestone
showing the farm

Gold, Silver and Bronze were very new at that time and I think Chris Atkins was Gold at HQ. Peter Stevens was Silver parked up in the nearby farmyard (bottom of picture right). The big machine with the bucket appeared and a lorry load of gravel was acquired to combat the mud at the exit from the field (top right of picture 1 above).

The lorry is parked up with a second load, on the right of the road at the top right; we borrowed a prisoner van from somewhere (Hampshire I believe) and that is top centre of picture one above. I think the pictures were taken by one of our HQ photographers who got a ride in the Metropolitan Police helicopter.

We had a big commitment from CID and Traffic Department and those boys did a superb job on the day keeping the skids under the travellers. The overall result was that police won almost completely.

Later that night, someone decided as a going-away present to heave a concrete block through the local shop front window! We got some inaccurate press from the Esher and Walton paper whose hack had been sniffing around all day and reported that we had used a crack team from the Metropolitan Police SO19 armed group. He got told the time of day later the next week in my office!

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