Pub bosses across Thanet will work with police and other agencies to prevent a repeat of the mass shutdown of businesses experienced in Margate over the August bank holiday.
Publicans, business members, councillors, police and North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale discussed the issue caused by a ‘rogue’ group of Travellers which resulted in the early closure of bars, shops and takeaways last month.
Residents and businesses reported damage and intimidation in bars and shops stretching from Margate High Street up to areas of Ethelbert Crescent and Fort Crescent.
Police were called to numerous sites including the Mechanical Elephant which had an 80-strong group pour into the bar.
Bugsy’s Bowling hired an all-day security guard after incidents at the venue, incidents were reported at the Bellvue pub and Smith’s Court Hotel and police were called to Sheldon’s in the High Street.
There were also thefts from shops including Aldi in Cliftonville.
At the Licenced Victuallers Association Thanet Branch meeting yesterday (September 12) Britannia pub boss Paul Rollins (pictured), who is LVA President, said his staff and customers barricaded themselves inside the bar during the disturbances.
He said during the time the particular Traveller group was at the Lido car park – a period of around 3 days – his business suffered a loss of some £1,500.
He added: “We were in a close down situation, like a lot of other businesses. It was an appalling set of circumstances. We are trying to give people a service and provide a safe area where people can enjoy themselves.
“There are problems every year and we need to have in mind a way to deal with this.”
Licensing officer Justin Carter said police received 19 Computer Aided Dispatches during the disruption on August 28.
He said: “This group was not part of those staying at other areas across Thanet. They pulled into the Lido car park and then caused mayhem across the town. When the council used powers to move them on they went to Deal and did the same thing.
“The call to the Mechanical Elephant involved upwards of 80 Travellers refusing to leave and smoking. To start with there were four police officers, we can’t send four, 20-year-old officers in to deal with 80 Travellers.
“When more officers arrived a decision was made not to go in, the pub has just been refurbished and it could have been smashed to bits.”
Police at the meeting said considerations included safety of pub staff, customers and officers and everything within the force’s powers was done.
Sheldon’s experienced similar numbers and circumstances and Sgt Neil Fuller, who was heading up a team of five officers, said anti-social behaviour dispersal powers were used to ‘herd’ the group back to the Lido.
He added: “It took a number of hours to get them back there. At the time there were no arrestable offences but we put a dispersal on Margate town, so we had those powers.
“We were outnumbered quite heavily but still had sufficient officers if we needed to make arrests.”
It was also revealed during the meeting that some isle pubs are now facing legal action from the group citing discrimination over the refusal to serve them.
Suggestions for future action included a recommendation from Marc One security boss Marcus Redwood that venues invested in body worn cameras to capture evidence and help reduce deliberate goading.
Better communication and more use of the Thanet Safe system was also brought up. Ramsgate councillor Raushan Ara said an authorised transient site was needed for the isle. Although this caused some division Officer Carter said there were benefits to the idea.
He said: “At the moment we are just chasing them around and the problem is they do not have a site. In Canterbury there is a site which is supposed to be transient but they have settled there. If you have a site it opens up by-laws councils can use to move groups on. Until Thanet gets that site there is a Pandora’s Box of by-laws that we can’t use.
“The problem is, every time the council identify a site people nearby are up in arms. Until we have that site we will just be chasing them around.”
However, one attendee said a transient camp would be useless as only one family would use it and the isle has at least seven regular Traveller families.
Thanet councillor Ruth Duckworth said a committee at the authority was examining the situation of unauthorised camps and the possibility of an authorised site on the isle.
The committee is devising an action plan to investigate the issue and look at areas including Traveller accommodation, security measures and increased enforcement at high risk areas.
The findings will be discussed at a meeting in November.
Sir Roger backed the suggestion of a transient site as the only way to bring by-laws into force – meaning groups who use unauthorised sites when a facility has been provided can be moved on much faster – but highlighted that the trouble was caused by one particular group.
He said: “The people moving around the isle are generally decent people who are much less trouble than the mob who invaded that weekend – they have not been identified as regulars. This was a different ballgame altogether.”
He also said communication between licensees, police and council was essential.
Unauthorised camps in Thanet have risen from two in 2013 to 50 last year and more than 45 this year.