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Eviction by the police

If you are a Gypsy/Traveller and the council or a private landlord is trying to evict you, they may call in the police to remove you. This page looks at the situations in which this can happen, and what you can do about it.

When do the police have the right to move me on?

By law, the police have the power to remove you and your vehicles if:

  • there are two or more people staying on land without the owner's permission, and
  • you have parked six or more vehicles on the land, or
  • you've damaged the site or land in some way (this doesn't need to be extensive damage - it can include taking wood for a fire), or
  • you've behaved in a threatening, abusive or insulting way towards the landowner or occupier or their family, and
  • the landowner or occupier has asked you to leave.

The police should only use these powers if the landowner and/or council has already tried using other methods to remove you (for example, by applying for an interdict or sending you an enforcement notice) and you've still refused to leave.

The police can't move you on if you have permission to be on the land.

What do the police need to take into account before moving me on?

When deciding whether or not to move you on, the police need to take into account the following things. If you don't think they've done so, contact a solicitor straightaway (see 'where can I get help and advice' below).

The consequences of moving you on

The police need to consider what you'll do if you're moved on. For example:

  • Will you be able to move to an authorised site, or will you have no choice but to park somewhere else illegally? Will you and your household be safe?
  • Will your children's education be disrupted? Will they be able to continue attending school if you move?
  • Will you be able to access health services if you have to move?
  • Would a sudden move cause problems for anyone in your household specifically because they are elderly, ill, or pregnant?
  • Will you lose your job, or be unable to find work if you move?
  • Are your vehicles in a fit state to make a journey?

The consequences if you stay put

You can point out that if you stay on the site, you won't cause any damage to the land, or disrupt the local community. It will help if you can get the landowner or members of the local community to back you up.

Whether everyone on the site needs to be moved

If the police are moving you on because of antisocial behaviour, they should first make sure that your whole group isn't being punished for the bad behaviour of a few individuals. If this is the case, the police should only evict the troublemakers, and leave you in peace. Better still, if you can persuade the person who caused the problems to leave of their own accord, the police may agree to let everyone else stay.

The site's history

The police should also consider how long the site has been used by Gypsies/Travellers, and whether there has been any trouble in the past.

How do the police move me on?

In order to move you on, the police must come onto the land, and the senior police officer must ask you to leave. They may also give you a letter or written direction asking you to leave. You can ask them to give you time to speak to the landowner, to ask if you can stay on a little longer, although they don't have to grant you this time.

There is no minimum period of notice, so you'll be asked to leave as soon as you're able to, and you won't be able to return for three months.

If there are any problems, for example, if anyone on the site gets violent, the police may charge them and report them to the procurator fiscal (see 'what if I'm charged with a criminal offence' below).

What if I don't move on?

The police will ask you to move as soon as you're practically able to. For example, you should be given time to pack up the site and fix any broken down vehicles. If you don't leave within the time you're given, or you return to the land within three months, you'll be committing a criminal offence, and you may be fined or even put in prison (see 'what if I'm charged with a criminal offence' below). In this case, the police have the right to tow away your vehicles.

If the police remove your vehicles, they must serve you with a removal notice, telling you to collect your vehicle within 21 days. The notice should also explain where your vehicle is being stored and what removal and storage charges you need to pay before you can get it back. If you don't reclaim it within 21 days, the police can sell or destroy it. If they sell it, they must return the sale money to you, after deducting the charges.

What if I'm charged with a criminal offence?

Police in Scotland have been instructed not to prosecute Gypsies/Travellers unnecessarily. However, if your site is causing problems in the area, or if there is trouble when the police arrive to move you on, they may charge you with a criminal offence, for example, breach of the peace. If the police think it necessary, you may also be arrested.

Once you've been charged, the police will send a report to the procurator fiscal. The procurator fiscal works in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and is responsible for deciding whether someone who has been charged with committing a crime should go to court.

The police will probably only report you to the procurator fiscal if:

  • your camp is very big or has become a road safety or public health hazard, or
  • you've been moved from the same site several times and keep coming back, or
  • the council has found you another suitable site, but you're refusing to move there, or
  • you are violent or disruptive during an eviction.

What happens if the police decide to report me to the procurator fiscal?

Your case will go to court if the procurator fiscal decides that there's enough evidence to convict you, and that it's in the public interest to do so. If you're found guilty, you may face a fine or even imprisonment. If the procurator fiscal decides not to pursue the charges, your case will be dropped and you won't need to go to court.

What if I think the police have mistreated me?

If you believe the police have mistreated you in any way, you should make an official complaint.

Where can I get help and advice?

If you're charged with a criminal offence, or need any other help and advice in dealing with the police, you should contact a solicitor or law centre immediately. Your local Citizens Advice may be able to recommend a solicitor who can help you. You may be able to get legal aid to help pay the solicitor's fee.

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This content applies to Scotland only.
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The important points

  • The police should only use their powers to remove you if the landowner and/or council has already tried using other methods to remove you (for example, by applying for an interdict or sending you an enforcement notice) and you've still refused to leave.
  • In order to move you on, the police must come onto the land, and the senior police officer must ask you to leave.
  • There is no minimum period of notice, so you'll be asked to leave as soon as you're able to, and you won't be able to return for three months.
  • If you believe the police have mistreated you in any way, you should make an official complaint.

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