Trespassers and what to do about them

During the summer period we often notice an increase in cases involving trespassers on school sites. Part of this is likely to be attributable to schools being closed for the holidays, and therefore land is in less regular use. It is important that schools keep a close eye on their land and take swift action if such a situation arises. This includes seeking immediate legal advice so that schools are able to recover possession of the land with the least amount of damage possible.

The problem

Apart from the obvious safeguarding issues, it is evident that trespassers can cause major damage to school property and the clean-up costs can often run into tens of thousands of pounds. It is near impossible to recover these costs from trespassers, as well as the costs of legal proceedings themselves. If swift action is not taken, the removal of trespassers can also take considerable time due to the Court’s considerable backlog and the need for schools to comply with onerous procedural requirements.

The Court process

In order to speed up the process of dealing with trespassers, in recent years the High Court has allowed possession claims to be decided within its jurisdiction, subject to the claims having (what the Court considers to be) a real urgency and a “substantial risk of public disturbance or of serious harm to persons or property which properly requires immediate determination”. However, if these tests cannot be satisfied, proceedings would need to be issued in the local County Court, which can cause significant delay.

Accordingly, in order to maximize the chance of being able to bring the possession claim in the High Court, it is crucial schools take action as soon as evidence of trespass is uncovered. In our experience, it is difficult for a Court to find that there is a real urgency if the trespassers have already been on school land for a number of weeks. It is also necessary to obtain as much information about the occupation as possible, including (if it is safe to do so) providing photographic evidence of fly-tipping or other damage.

In a recent case, our client informed us that its playing fields were occupied with over 20 vehicles on site. Fortunately, the school contacted us promptly, and after being instructed late on a Monday afternoon we were able to argue the urgency before the High Court, obtain the possession order and take back the land (with assistance from trusted enforcement officers) by lunchtime on the Wednesday. Of course, this fast turnaround was greatly assisted by the school taking swift action and providing us with as much information as possible.

Once the site has been cleared, it then needs to be secured immediately, and thanks to enforcement officers we are able to assist with this step too.

Minimising the risk

We have continued to notice an increase in large-scale trespass on school grounds, often in situations where the occupied land, usually a playing field, is separate from the main school site. It is clear that schools need to be vigilant and closely monitor their land to minimise the risk of having to deal with trespassers. This is particularly important over holiday periods, however the risk is present at all times.

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