It started quietly on a Sunday, October 20th. About a dozen caravans were parked around the perimeter of the overflow section at the back of the Girton Road car park. At first it was pretty quiet and not too disruptive as can be seen from the picture above.
Nevertheless local residents were alarmed and posts of horror started appearing in STF. There was even a debate over what the visitors should be called; travellers, gypsies or gypos (the latter term was judged to be inappropriate). The council were alerted and were quickly on the scene. The visitors assured them they would leaver voluntarily the following weekend. But they didn’t. More and bigger caravans began to arrive and conditions deteriorated rapidly. The residents worst expectations were met. Fires, noise, rubbish and smells were all problems.
The council instigated legal action in protection of a public amenity. The wheels of justice rolled quickly, but not quickly enough for some. The council had a possession order and one that prohibited ‘unknown persons’ and for a lengthy period to avoid getting rid of some to only be replaced by others. In this respect the visitors were law abiding and left by the 11th November after an occupancy of three weeks.
That, sadly, was not the end. A horrific amount of rubbish was left. Lewisham estimated it to be between 60 and 70 tons which took several skips to clear. The tarmac surface had been damaged by fires. Estimates of the cost to the Council were of the order of £10,000. This further inflamed local residents.
It would be fair to say the reaction to the visitors arriving looked ‘over the top’ but then the visitors’ behaviour grew to match it. Prejudices were firmly reinforced. This only makes finding legal pitches for travellers more difficult to find for councils fearing the backlash from people who live nearby. Which in turn creates the pressure for travellers to set up and damage their own cause in more inappropriate places.
Why did this happen in the first place?
Its the pavements that dunnit. Riley, the Sydenham Road contractor had established a temporary depot in the car park to support their work. This required the width and height barriers guarding the entrance to be removed. And when Riney left the travellers had free entry. Councillor Chris Best assured the Sydenham Assembly that stronger barriers would be going in and there are already some concrete sleepers to stop wide vehicles entering.