A ‘DRACONIAN’ new law that would ban travellers from setting up camp on private land in Oxfordshire has been criticised by a councillor.

Labour city councillor Linda Smith was one of the first local leaders to publicly condemn the Government’s proposal to create new police powers in a bid to ‘crack down' on unauthorised traveller sites.

This comes after a number of Liberal Democrat and Tory officials backed it.

The new law would make a criminal offence of ‘intentional trespass’.

Under the proposal, families living on unauthorised encampments could face time behind bars, a hefty fine or the removal of their home.

Ms Smith first denounced the ‘vile’ legislation on social media last week.

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In a post on Twitter, she said the ‘crack down’ was nothing more than a reactionary attack on marginalised people and everyone’s freedoms.

Ms Smith also condemned Oxfordshire leaders who had already backed legislation and added that they should be ashamed of themselves for their ‘pre-election leap onto this grim bandwagon’.

Speaking to this paper, the councillor commented further: “This vile Tory legislation threatens the freedom of us all with the threat of making trespass a criminal offence.

Councillor Linda Smith. Picture: Oxford City Council website

“Responses to the Government’s own consultation show that the police do not support these measures – 75 per cent of police respondents indicated that their current powers are sufficient, and I agree.

“The city council works well with Thames Valley Police to deal with any unauthorised encampments on our land.

“These draconian new powers and threats of fines and imprisonment are unnecessary.

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“They will only further marginalise gypsy and traveller communities.

“What is really needed is more legal sites and stopping places where adequate facilities can be provided.”

The new law is being put forward to Parliament by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

It has already received local cross-party approval after dozens of traveller groups set up camps on playing fields and car parks across the county in recent years, costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal and clean-up costs.

In 2018 alone, 60 illegal encampments cost the local taxpayer more than £100,000 in clean-up and legal bills.

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If approved, it would enable police to seize vehicles and arrest those who refuse to move on at the landowner’s request.

Those who breach it could face a three-month prison sentence and a fine of up to £2,500.

Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) – a national charity that works on behalf of all gypsies, travellers and Roma communities – also hit back at the plans last month saying it is ‘deeply unfair’.

The not-for-profit group said that its own research revealed the ‘shocking’ lack of pitches available on public traveller sites across the country.

Currently, there are six permanent council-owned sites in Oxfordshire, providing 89 pitches.

There are also 21 privately-run caravan sites.

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