Police under fire

TEMPERS flared as Ely police were forced to defend their lack of action over travellers who set up an illegal camp on the city s Cambridgeshire Business Park. Business people demanded to know why officers had not stepped in to arrest or move on the trav

TEMPERS flared as Ely police were forced to defend their "lack of action" over travellers who set up an illegal camp on the city's Cambridgeshire Business Park.

Business people demanded to know why officers had not stepped in to arrest or move on the travellers camped close to their offices.

The heated exchanges came at a meeting called by police and attended by council officials last Wednesday to discuss the problem and find a way forward.

"There were a lot of fairly frustrated business people there," said Dr Fraser Reich, from Kore Technology. "I think everyone understood that this was going to be a pitch by the police and council and they would have to go along with the inertia.  "I don't think a lot came out of it. It was like a lot of public meetings - a chance for everyone to have their say and those who organised it hoped it would diffuse the situation."

Travellers moved on to a council-owned car park on the business park at the end of July.

That weekend, windows were smashed and air conditioning units ripped out of council business units. Some staff witnessed the destruction and took photos but police took no action.

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As the travellers moved on, other groups set up camps in the car park of nearby Melrose Press and Tesco.

One businessman declared enough was enough after battling with boy racers and travellers and announced he was quitting the high-tech park.  Amid fears that others might follow and the business park's reputation would be tarnished, police called the meeting on the business park.

Ely mayor and East Cambridgeshire district councillor Ron Bradney, who has been appointed economic champion to work with business people in the area, said: "I don't think this situation has tarnished the business park's image. It was just a hiccup.

"It's about how we respond to this in the future. If it were to happen again it could hurt us.

"It will be sorted out. It is important to us."

He admitted that the district council had lacked direction in the past.

"They didn't know where they were going," he said. "There hasn't been a mission statement. There was no drive. We want to make progress and move forward."

East Cambridgeshire District Council is pushing ahead with plans for a new commuter car park on the business park, which will be protected by a height barrier to prevent vans and caravans parking there. The barrier should be in place by Christmas.

Cllr Bradney also plans to raise the suggestion of 24-hour security on the business park which would have to be paid for by the businesses but has proved effective at Witchford's Lancaster Way Business Park.

A decision is also being taken whether to repair the damage to the council-owned business units on the site or tear them down and rebuild.

"It raises the whole question of whether the council should be in property ownership," he said. "We should be encouraging it but should we own it?"

The Ely Standard challenged the police to defend their actions involving the travellers through a series of questions.

Ely inspector Adam Gallop said: "During the travellers' stay, we increased patrols in the area following a number of complaints of anti-social behaviour and visited the site several times with the council.

"We also appraised local businesses of our work to ensure they were aware of the action being taken."

A Cambridgeshire police spokesman said: "All complaints made to police have been investigated. However, there was insufficient evidence to justify taking proceedings against anyone. No suspects had been identified.

"The situation in relation to forcible eviction was assessed. Following the assessment, it was found that using police powers to evict the travellers from the land would not have been proportionate or reasonable according to the law."

Some of the business people have complained that the district council's traveller liaison officer Brian Hicks was unobtainable during the travellers' recent stay at Cambridgeshire Business Park.

At last Wednesday's meeting, it was stated that, despite numerous attempts, Mr Hicks could not be contacted and people could only find answers through the council's economic development officer, Darren Hill.

A district council spokesman said: "The traveller liaison officer was hands-on in dealing with the travellers on the business park site, as is the nature of his job, and messages were relayed to him regarding calls he received at his desk.

"He returned the majority of these calls or passed on information via other officers, but we apologise if anyone was missed out in this process and we are looking into how we can prevent this from happening again.

"We are looking into all options regarding the future of the site and a report is being submitted to committee for debate and discussion.

"We are working with the police and other residents of the business park to look at the various security options available.

"We will debate further security measures at the next meeting in September."

Another meeting is planned at Cambridgeshire Business Park on September 4.