A supermarket has been plagued by a returning convoy of travellers who intimidate customers and litter the carpark, locals have claimed.
The group are said to have set up camp outside the Tesco superstore in the London suburb of Woodford Green twice a month for several years – despite being ordered to leave by police each time.
Staff described how the ten caravans pitched up and stayed for 36 hours, only leaving when enforcement officers arrived after reports of abusive behaviour.
Ten caravans pitch up in the car park of a Tesco superstore in Woodford Green twice a month and have been doing so for years, locals say
Redbridge Council said several London boroughs had being facing an ‘extremely high number of travellers’ in recent months.
It has become such a big problem that Council leader Jas Athwal is now seeking an injunction against the group.
Having parked outside a local school on the weekend, the caravans drove in convoy into store carpark at around 9am on Monday morning.
It is understood security guards were positioned outside the store in case there was any trouble, while customers told how they felt intimidated and felt forced to park elsewhere.
One staff member, who wished to remain annonymous, said: ‘It’s a nuisance. There’s rubbish left all over the car park, they make the store toilet dirty and some of the young ones mess up the shop.
‘Some of the teenage boys can get abusive towards staff. They run up and down the aisles. Every time a group come in, we have to keep an eye on them because the kids definitely steal.’
Though the police were alerted immediately, it was not until enforcement officers arrived on Tuesday evening that the group began to leave at around 9pm.
A source said: ‘It’s not the first time they’ve come. It’s been going on for a long time, around three or four years.
‘They’re quite frequent, they come here at least twice a month. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s an absolute nightmare
‘Sometimes it’s in smaller numbers – like three or four caravans – but others, like this week, there were about ten.’
A source said police would only send enforcement officers in if staff reported that the travellers had been abusive towards them.
They said: ‘In the past, we would say the travellers are here, can you help us, and they would say there’s nothing they could do, and just call us if you feel threatened.’
To combat the problem, the store is understood to have taken to parking their vans at the entrance leaving only enough space for cars can get into the car park.
Shoppers say they have been intimidated by the group, while workers say teenagers often come inside where they try to steal items
All meetings among staff have to be stopped while the travellers stay in the car park because of the need for as many as possible to watch the store.
However the problem is not just confined to the supermarket, with locals telling how they have seen the same group in several other locations within a mile radius.
They said camps had recently been set next to a nearby high school in another Tesco carpark and on a playing field.
A resident said: ‘They drive in a convoy, with transit vans dragging some of the caravans. I think it’s the same group time and time again around here.
‘As soon as they arrive, they jump out and start offering to power wash peoples drives – anything cash in hand so they don’t have to pay tax.
‘There’s a lot of elderly people and the travellers can be very intimidating towards them.
‘There’s an elderly widow who lives next door to me and I could see they were being aggressive and really trying to get her to give them work.
‘I had to jump in and offer to do it for free for her. They then got really abusive, swearing and telling me they were trying to stop them do work.’
It comes after neighbouring London borough Barking and Dagenham saw a drastic reduction in travellers after taking legal action to curb the problem.
In March, they were given an interim injunction against a list of named travellers that stopped them from setting up camp on 141 public and private sites for more than two hours.
A spokesman said: We brought it in because it was costing us so much money to get them off the site, to fix the damage caused, and to clear up all the litter they were leaving.’
Yesterday, Redbrige Council leader Mr Athwal said he would be lobbying the government to give them more power to deal with travellers, who on occasion had illegally forced entry.
He said they needed to ‘be tough to ensure our residents’ way of life is preserved’ and was seeking an injunction similar to their neighbouring council.