The invasion of Marlborough College by a convoy of travellers who burst through the school gates on the Bath Road at 6pm on Thursday ended peacefully in yesterday’s blazing sunshine as unexpectedly as it began.
At 11.45 am the six white caravans, a lorry, one horse-drawn cart, a car and a truck towing another horsebox drove off the playing field where the Duchess of Cambridge once excelled at hockey, watched by security guards and escorted by Wiltshire police vehicles.
And joined at the entrance by another white caravan that had found itself locked into Marlborough Common, they headed out of the town for an unknown destination, possibly the Dorset Steam Fair.
They had spent some 50 hours illegally encamped on private land while Jonathan Leigh, the College’s new Master who only arrived the week before, organised a court injunction to end the invasion.
A police spokesman said: “The traveller incursion at Marlborough College has now ended. The travellers have left the site at approximately 12pm today (Sunday) following a direction to do so. They have now left Wiltshire.”
Police had talked to the travellers as their children, horses and dogs enjoyed their stay in the serene surroundings of the prestigious independent school, whose alumni include the wives of David Cameron, George Osborne and Speaker John Bercow.
And they had promised to leave “no later than Sunday”.
But meanwhile another drama was unfolding on Marlborough College where three travellers’ caravans, which had failed in a bid to rejoin the convoy on the playing field, had snapped the town council’s padlock on the Commons barrier, amid fears that the travellers would subsequently encamp there.
Newly-co-opted Councillor Val Compton told Marlborough News Online: “ I received a call from a rather distressed lady in St John’s Close. The padlock on the gate to the Common had been taken off – I presume by bolt cutter – and three vehicles were parked up. She and her husband secured the gate again with another padlock.”
“She was very concerned about the patch of grass by St John’s Close and the Rugby Club. There was a lot of traveller movement both pedestrian and vehicular in town going up to Common.”
“I went up to the Common to see if there was anything the Rugby Club could do as there was an event on. We discussed possibilities but with farm vehicles mostly harvesting, it would be difficult to find anything to park there. We also discussed barricading with vehicles – but that is far too risky.”
“The police were manning the second gate, opposite the club, on to the Common, one vehicle left and the police then locked the gate, having agreed with the remaining travellers that they would open it again at 7am Sunday to allow them to leave.”
“I couldn’t understand why the police didn’t ask the two vehicles to park up somewhere else in town if they were genuine in their decision to leave.”
“The police then left. I am hopeful the traveller departure will actually happen, but frankly anyone driving at the gate from inside the field, could probably get through it and leave the way open.
“The police will monitor the situation but of course need to also attend to other things in Marlborough. Perhaps we need a conversation with a security company about more effective ways, such as effective pop up posts, of ensuring this can’t happen in the future.”
She added: “The real hero is the lady who does not wish to be named, but was quick thinking enough to replace the padlock on the main gate to the Common. She then phoned me as the police were not very co-operative towards her, so that I could take the situation forward.”
Councillor Compton has now checked and photographed all locked Commons gates, cleared “indescribable” rubbish abandoned by the travellers, and also photographed another weak entry point to west side of Common.
She fears that travellers may well return, and declared: “We need the eyes and actions of residents who must be encouraged to phone the police on 101, if not emergency 999, and report what is happening – that’s the only way we got police presence up on Common. Otherwise they wouldn’t know what is happening.”
Councillor Richard Pitts, chairman of the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee, also visited the Common and on Sunday replaced the padlock with one belonging to the town council.
“The travellers broke in and we probably can’t stop that,” he told Marlborough News Online. “The trouble is that nobody knows exactly what they might do once that happens.”
“Our whole purpose was to get the travellers off the Common without any form of confrontation or aggression. There is no purpose is causing more grief.”