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ANXIOUS WAIT FOR RULING OVER MAJOR TEST CASE ON TRAVELLERS' RIGHTS

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A mother-of-five is facing an anxious wait for the outcome of her Appeal Court test case which will have a major im...
A mother-of-five is facing an anxious wait for the outcome of her Appeal Court test case which will have a major impact on travellers' rights and landowners' powers to evict them.

Angela Drury was amongst a group travelling families who settled in Fermyn Woods, near Brigstock, Northants, in April.

But the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - which owns the woodland - launched a court action against the group and, on May 23, Judge Stephen Waine, issued a possession order.

The travellers have since moved away, but Ms Drury is battling on in an Appeal Court challenge to Judge Waine's decision to extend the possession order to cover 30 other Forestry Commission areas within a 20-mile radius.

During a day-long hearing, her QC, Mr Richard Drabble, attacked the making of such a broad possession order - against 'persons unknown' and without limit of time - as a violation of basic legal principles.

Judge Waine had, in effect, made a 'pre-emptive order' banning everyone - 'whoever they may be' - from vaguely drawn areas of land for an indefinite period, Mr Drabble told three top judges.

That may have been 'administratively convenient', but it failed to meet the 'overriding objective' of fairness, added the QC, who said the case raised 'important issues of principle'.

However, Mr John Hobson QC, for the department, said Judge Waine had been quite right to extend the possession order to cover the other 30 areas of woodland.

He said there was 'convincing evidence' of a tendency amongst travellers to occupy a piece of land, wait until the court orders them off, and then move to another plot nearby.

There was a 'history' of trespass on other Forestry Commission land in the area and Mr Hobson said the possession order was 'proportionate and reasonable'.

It would, he added, be 'oppressive' to expect landowners to go through the time and expense of launching individual court actions each time they were faced with tresp assing travellers.

Observing that camping on Forestry Commission land is also a criminal offence under bye-laws, Mr Hobson said trespassers not only had an impact on the productive management of woodland but also the public's access and enjoyment of such areas.

Recognising the importance of the case, Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Mummery and Mr Justice Wilson reserved their decision in the case and will give their judgement at a later date.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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