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Fresh anger over Watton horse fair

PUBLISHED: 14:34 29 August 2008 | UPDATED: 11:00 08 July 2010

Ian Clarke

Controversy over the Watton Horse Fair has been re-ignited after a council lawyer advised against a prosecution over an illegal caravan site "as it would not be in the public interest.

Controversy over the Watton Horse Fair has been re-ignited after a council lawyer advised against a prosecution over an illegal caravan site “as it would not be in the public interest.”

For more than three years pressure has been mounting from local people for action to stop caravans parking on land at Thetford Road next to where the fair is held.

Thousands of people - including many gypsy and traveller families - attend the horse fair, which has been staged in Watton since 1971 and on the present site for the past decade.

Breckland Council officials insist no planning permission is needed for the fair - but there should be a licence for the caravans on the neighbouring land.

Head of legal services Michael Horn has written a report to the council's overview and scrutiny commission and cabinet advising against a prosecution over the caravans as it would not be in the public interest.

He also said that the “30-50” caravans which use the site could “relocate on to far less suitable land with attendant risks of criminality and anti-social behaviour.”

However, Watton district councillor Keith Gilbert said he was “disgusted” with the recommendation and has vowed to try to persuade members to authorize a prosecution.

“I have been battling with Breckland for three and a half years to get something done to control this. It would give the green light to anyone with a field to organise an event and park caravans on it.”

Mr Gilbert will be speaking at the overview and scrutiny commission meeting tomorrow as will Norman Phillips, who runs the Babes In The Wood caravan site next to the land at Thetford Road.

Mr Gilbert said: “This is only a recommendation and I will try hard to get members to overturn it and get them to prosecute.”

Breckland's cabinet will make a final decision at a meeting on September 9.

Mr Phillips said he was allowed up to five caravans on his land and stuck to the law.

“If I did not they would be down on me like a tonne of bricks.”

Mr Phillips said the fair started as a one-day event for local people but had grown rapidly in recent years.

He said there were more than 50 caravans using the site when the fair is on.

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