A picturesque village has gone into ”lockdown” after an empty field was invaded by 200 caravans and 1,000 travellers – for a born-again Christian festival.
Stunned shopkeepers complained traveller kids have been stealing from shelves and a terrified pub landlord has locked his doors after caravans descended on Swavesey, near Cambridge, on Saturday.
Angry villagers claimed yesterday they were duped after granting permission for a small six-day religious festival with a dozen caravans to be held on the 30-acre field.
Instead a large convoy of travellers descended on the village and set up toilets and marquee in a 30 acre field yards from homes and a church.
An estimated 200 caravans and 1,000 travellers were on the field yesterday(MON) and pledged not to leave until Friday.
Dozens of angry villagers held showdown talks with councillors in Swavesey yesterday demanding the travellers are removed.
Despite complaints from villagers the campsite is entirely legal because the travellers obtained legal permission for a Christian festival from the landowner to use the field.
Sue Ellington, South Cambridgeshire district councillor for Swavesey, said: ”We have a field that has been used for steam engine rally this summer and other relatively small activities and I understand someone approached the landlord to hold a small religious festival.
”I think everyone in the village was then a little stunned to find more than 200 caravans arrive.
”Nobody in the village knew this was happening until the caravans came traipsing through the village.
”They’ve parked close to the centre of the village and disturbed people here. They appear to have things like toilets and proper facilities so there is no health risk.
”There are a number of local people who are concerned but they are here legally and I understand they plan to stay here all week.
”They said they will go on Friday and I have no reason to doubt them.
”I entirely understand the villager’s concerns around finding so many people here without warning – they are entirely justified being a bit concerned.
”I am told it is a religious festival but don’t know what religion it is. They are Irish travellers.”
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Constabulary said police will continue to monitor the camp throughout the week but there were no plans to move the travellers.
Martin Johnston, chairman of Swavesey Parish Council, said he was inundated with complaints as soon as the caravans arrived.
He said: ”We have been told some of the children have been stealing from local shops like the newsagents and making some of the shoppers nervous.
”The owner of the White Horse pub has locked his doors because underage people kept trying to get in.
”There are around 200 vans, so who knows how many people there are.
”Permission or not, we should have been told they were going to be here.
”We would like them to leave as they are disrupting the residents of Swavesey.”
The owner of the land, named locally as Trevor Smith, was unavailable for comment today.
Swavesey has a population of just 2,480 villagers according to the most recent figures.
Villager April Martin, 63, said: ”I think the land owner is a little red-faced because he thought a dozen caravans would turn up and wasn’t expecting so many people.
”It seems there is a group of born-again Christians who will be here until Friday. There is a big marquee in the middle where some sort of religious ceremony takes place.
”Everyone is talking about it in the post office this morning and people are worried.
”The problem people have is twofold; firstly there are are such a lot of them and secondly, nobody, not even the district or parish council, knew it was going to happen.”
Bill Laws, editor of Travellers’ Times magazine, said: ”They will be there for a few days for the religious festival and leave without any problems.
”This is just like a small rock festival and these people are extraordinarily well-behaved and very nice people.”
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire police said: ”We are aware of their presence and there are community impact issues.
”We are working with the parish council and are monitoring the travelling community.
”Officers are in the area and will deal pro-actively with any offences committed.”