Traveller incursion at Warley Woods
Many of you in the community will already be aware that yesterday, Monday 7th September, we had the worst attack on Warley Woods ever. In the late afternoon, travellers forced their way into the park by destroying some perimeter bollards on the Abbey Road side. They succeeded in getting what could probably be best described as a small advanced party on to the meadow.
Luckily for us, this was witnessed by local residents who informed the Trust office; the police; and me. The quick action by residents not only resulted in a police attendance, but also meant that Viv, together with other staff and community volunteers were able to prevent any more caravans getting into the park. Even the one who tried another way in got stuck on the bank into the park. This did not stop more arriving though, and they were determined to get in.
At this point I need to set out though that whist the damage that was done to gain entry is a criminal matter, the travellers being on the park is not. When I first discussed with the police about what was happening and what they were doing, it was made clear to me that their first concern was about public order and that the Trust continuing to obstruct access to the park was contributing to the risk. Notwithstanding this, both Viv and myself made it absolutely clear that the Trust was not going to permit any more caravans in the park under any circumstances, public order or anything else. We have the right to protect our park, which no one can take off us, and that’s what we did.
There were some ugly scenes. There were some park users cars parked in the parking area off the drive as usual, which became blocked in by a travellers vehicle. There were angry travellers who appeared to be making some threats to the police about getting on and how many more would appear and block the road. Of course, by now, the ones who were on the park couldn’t get off. They were trapped, not just the caravans but their vans, cars and pick-up trucks as well. Then there was the caravan well and truly stuck on the bank that was not going to be easily removed.
So we had a massive stand-off between the travellers and the Trust with fantastic support from the community protecting the park, and the police worried about public order, but as time went on it was the travellers who ended up on the back foot. They had failed, and they got to know that we weren’t going to give up.
Thanks then again to Viv for some skilful negotiation to allow those that were on the park to get back off. It did involve the Trust having to deal with getting the stuck caravan shifted, but at around nine o’clock the caravans still on Abbey Road were moving off and the park users cars released. By about ten, we had escorted the travellers off the park, making sure that none of them got stuck in the culvert in the dark.
What we witnessed last night was not only a serious attack on the park (we have never been invaded by travellers before) but also a fantastic response by the community. Let there be no doubt, had it not been for the Trust being resolute, with Viv standing her ground, together with so many from the community, we would have woken up this morning to find 30 to 40 caravans in the park, and a very difficult job to move them on.
I’m sure everyone will want to express their thanks to those who helped to protect our park. Viv and the staff, many of the trustees, and community volunteers. Viv, I think needs special mention, as does Arthur Ward who is chair of the Trust’s Site Committee. We should also appreciate the level of the police response. I’m told that we had every available police officer in Sandwell there, this was a major incident which they treated as such, so thanks to the officers that attended. I understand that there was at least one arrest, but I don’t know any details, or if they were charged. Sandwell Council’s highways emergency staff also attended and placed big concrete blocks as part of protecting the perimeter of the park, which was greatly appreciated.
The Board of Trustees will now review what happened and how we can continue to protect the park into the future. Whilst our defences held up reasonably well for what they are, we have to recognise that we are a park open to the public, and that if some people are determined enough to get a vehicle in, then our defences can be destroyed. In the meantime, the concrete blocks are in place, which will not be permanent. This means also that the Abbey Road entrance is blocked and the parking spaces there will not be available for a while. We will post further information about what happens next when we can.
Once again, many thanks for the great community support last night.
Steve Eling Chair of the Trustees.
Charity number: 1092754